The Glamour of Strangeness, a splendid book marred only by its awkward title ... To label the book a biographical study would be to scant its originality. Shifting fluently from subject to subject, teasing out patterns but not pressing them too hard, bringing his own experience to bear in illuminating ways, Mr. James has written a book that defies easy classification and is completely at ease in its skin.
...[an] esoterically learned and always entertaining book ... He may be a blue-chip professional writer (and one with a subtle sense of language and a very good idea of where his reader is), but there’s no question that his new book is the work of an amateur in the strictest, most laudable sense: the one who acts, in this case writes, out of love ... it would have been fascinating to read a fuller critique of the ways in which the 'beautiful' girls and 'lads' of the colonies were aestheticized into a sexual iconicity that amounted to a kind of invisibility — and to what extent this erasure informed the art, and with what implications.
The book is at its most powerful when dealing with the passage of time — that fundamental element of Segalen’s definition of exoticism ... Although James admirably avoids drawing parallels between his subjects on the grounds that their circumstances were so different, he admits that his fascination with them stems from his own situation as a contemporary exote.'
I am grateful to James, without whom I would never have learned the story of Raden Saleh’s life — a life that also has the contours of a fantasy … The Glamour of Strangeness contains wonderful episodes and a memorable cast, and James’s reminder that colonial encounters sometimes involved amicable and eager exchange, and not merely force and exploitation, is well taken. But the book is marred by needless, showy digressions and unwelcome authorial intrusions.