In 1629, the ship Batavia, pride of the Dutch East India Company, was wrecked on the edge of a coral archipelago, some fifty miles from the western coast of the Australian continent. Most of the people on board - nearly three hundred men, women and children - escaped from drowning, only to become victims of a visionary psychopath who, with the help of a dozen followers, organised a methodical massacre of this hapless community. Acclaimed sinologist and author Simon Leys travelled to the site of the disaster and learned that, paradoxically, the natural environment of these islands could have afforded the survivors fairly decent living conditions; the massacre therefore appears all the more aberrant. In fact, in its gratuitous absurdity, it seems to present a microcosm of the totalitarian atrocities that are perpetrated by various ideologies seeking to establish Paradise on earth.
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