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The writer Donald Richie wore many hats: film curator and director, critic, essayist, writer of fiction, composer, cultural commentator extraordinaire and inveterate traveler.

An inquisitive soul, his journeys were undertaken not only for leisure, but also as writing missions. In “Travels in the East,” Richie appoints himself interpreter to a continent that has undergone an almost surgical change since the author first set foot on it in 1946. Among vanishing cultures and cities transformed beyond recognition, Richie finds old landscapes, buildings and micro-cultures whose essence has not yet yielded to the urgencies of tourism. For Richie — and I suspect many others — “travel is freedom from captivity.” The unknown streets and alleys of foreign cities, Asia’s open topographies and wildernesses, providing a new map of the self.

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