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Oxford University Press
The Ministry of Information's decision to send society photographer Cecil Beaton to the Far East to record the Allied war effort during World War II might have raised a few eyebrows, but as this collection of his photographs demonstrates, it was an inspired choice. Reproduced here with selections from his travel diary "Far East", the photographs depict the war zones of Arakan and Assam on the Burmese frontier, and life under the Raj, which remained largely untouched by the conflict. The combination is a portrait of an India where the architectural splendour of empires long past alternated with lonely landscapes, and the opulence of the upper classes contrasted with the poverty and deprivation of the masses.
In 1944, in one of its more inspired moments, the British Ministry of Information dispatched Cecil Beaton-- self-dramatizing exquisite, darling of London society, chosen photographer to royalty, and later the world-famous designer of My Fair Lady and Gigi--to the Far East to take pictures of the British Empire and its allies at war. The result was not only a superb collection of photographs but a breathtakingly vivid written portrait of India, Burma, and China at a historic turning-point in their histories. These volumes integrate both elements fully for the first time, offering the complete text of Beaton's narrative and a truly comprehensive selection of over 200 photographs.
Beaton was a great observer and, perhaps unexpectedly, a great describer. In remarkably few words, he can make you see, hear, smell, almost touch the dusty Burmese countryside, the shimmering, casual magnificence of a Bombay virtually untouched by war, or the rain-sodden, flea-bitten front lines in a China nearly destroyed by it. He was an acute observer of people, too, and these books offer revealing glimpses of representative wartime figures from Madame Sun Yat-sen and General Claire Chennault to anonymous British soldiers and Chinese peasants. There is mayhem, including an electrifying description of what it's like to live through a plane crash, and mordant social comedy that rivals (and explains much of) The Jewel in the Crown. Perhaps best of all are Beaton's accounts of the two great invariants of modern war--waiting for transport and enduring it--in all their exquisite variety.
A magnificent record of some of Beaton's most austere and disciplined photography and a welcome reminder of his almost forgotten literary gifts, these books offer a uniquely real picture of one of the most heroic episodes of recent history.