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August 28, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE LANDS OF CHARM AND CRUELTY: Travels in Southeast Asia by Stan Sesser (Vintage: $12; 306 pp.). In these geopolitical profiles of five countries, Sesser wonders how the gracious, cultivated peoples of Southeast Asia could produce some of the most cruelly repressive regimes on the planet. He praises the shrewd economic planning that has turned Singapore into an incredibly safe and prosperous city-state, but notes that life there is so minutely regulated, people are fined for forgetting to flush public urinals. In Borneo, he documents the ruthless exploitation of the island's rain forests by Japanese industrialists who wastefully use the rare hardwoods for plywood concrete molds. In the most depressing piece in the collection, Sesser mourns the plight of Burma, a potentially rich country reduced to penury by a brutal cadre of military dictators.

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