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LEE, James S.

The Underworld of the East.

Being Eighteen Years Actual Experiences of the Underworlds, Drug Haunts and Jungles of India, China, and the Malay Archipelago.

Published: London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1935

Stock code: 84127

Price: £650

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First edition of this uncommon memoir of a young Yorkshire mining engineer’s psychonautic experiences in the East, just a handful of copies on OCLC. “To the suspicious reader, James Lee’s Underworld of the East … might at first sight appear to be an elaborate hoax. Far more than nay other example of the turn-of-the-century travel genre, it presents our jaded modern palates with the sort of Orient of the Mind which we imagine far more often than we get: a twilight world of ports, red-light districts, drug dens, and secret chambers of vice from Aden to Kyoto, as strange as opium dreams yet as real as bamboo and stale tobacco, and our guide is not some prurient flaneur protesting his shock and disbelief at every step but a mining foreman from Yorkshire who, during the course of the book, is largely preoccupied with smoking, swallowing and injecting as many drugs as possible … Even more suspiciously, he defuses the near-universal problem which the sympathetic and unprejudiced reader has with colonial memoirs by being resolutely sympathetic and unprejudiced towards the local people – even marrying an Indian girl who he subsequently treats with nothing but love and respect … But perhaps most suspicious of all is the way in which Lee presents us with an account which significantly rewrites the social history of drugs in the period leading up to their prohibition …But a second glance confirms that Underworld of the East even if it seems too good to be true, is none the less exactly what it claims to be” (Mike Jay in the introduction to the 2000 Green Magic reprint). Highly desirable thus, in the oddly spare typographical jacket, predominantly white, the final word of the title – “East” – in stencil block capital shadow-lettering overlaid on a black and white image of a teeming Indian street scene.

Octavo. Original red cloth, lettered in black. In the strikingly simple typographical dust jacket. 18 plates.

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