Book Reviews – Page 3
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One of the basic formulae for a good story is the journey – how the hero goes to a far country, makes his way through many obstacles, and returns with the Golden Fleece. Andrew Hicks has chosen this formula for the journey of young Englishman Ben on his first foray into the world, to Thailand. A series of deftly-sketched foils enables the author to bring out Ben’s character, to provide information about the setting, and to keep the plot moving. Most of these foils are like Ben, foreign tourists, drawn to Thailand by the scenery and the sex industry. A few are women, including Ben’s likeable girlfriend, Emma.
Much more important is the far country – Thailand. Hicks has a good eye for the beautiful beaches, the traffic of Bangkok, the bars and the seedy hotels. But he is able to draw the reader beyond the picture postcards to the poor northeast of Thailand, where Ben travels to see the home of the Thai woman who, for a brief part of his life, draws him beyond the simplicity of lust. We feel the heat and see the fields and the rice and the village buildings. And we meet the people.
The people we meet are centred around Fon, the masseuse who attracts Ben’s attention. They are her family and her friends. It is Fon who brings Ben out of the Bangkok and beach circuit to the reality of her north-eastern home. It is Fon who shares with Ben her experience of the life which she must lead.
Surprisingly, the Thailand which Hicks shows us is peopled by women. There are almost no men, except in the background as taxi-drivers or restaurateurs or absent husbands. Although Thai men are loosely blamed for the society in which the sex industry flourishes, they are absent. And it is the mothers who sell their daughters to Bangkok.
The obstacles which Ben encounters are not dragons or wizards, but his own immaturity, his own lust, and his inability to comprehend another society. Hicks has been a law teacher, and no doubt set moot problems for his students. Such a problem has to be finely balanced in the information which is given, to enable the students to argue both sides. Hicks doles out the information in attractive little doses, and leaves us pondering the balance: is Fon really a victim, or a predator, or both at once? Is Ben really capable of breaking through the limitations of his middle-class English hedonism? And what is Thai society, in reality? At the end of the book, the questions remain open for the reader.
There is no Golden Fleece for Ben or for Fon, and maybe not for many of us on the journey through life. But there are good books, and I enjoyed reading this one.
China, April 2005
I have just re-read ‘Thai Girl’ and it was even better the second time. There is so much in it. I live in Isaan with my girlfriend so it says a lot to me. There is so much that is familiar and true. I got very involved in it and as Ben was finally saying goodbye to Fon on Koh Samet, I was blinking back tears. Yes, it’s an amazing book and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
I read ‘Thai Girl’ straight through on the plane back to London and this bloke sitting next to me keeps saying, what are you reading? And I just want him to shut up because I want to know what happens to Ben and Fon. It’s a great story and so I brought it back with me to Thailand and read it again. I love it and I’ve learned a lot from it about Thailand.
I finished your book today and really enjoyed reading it. Congratulations! All these crazy things happening between men and women… and novelists so often get closer than psychologists. And it’s fine that you mentioned Nick Drake (at page 247),but I didn’t know he died of a broken heart. By the way, I found a copy of the book here in Koh Pha Ngan at a little shop on the beach. The book paints a nice picture of Thai society and the way it is being influenced by strangers, so it should be of interest for the people lying around on the beach. Good luck with it.
Thanks so much for your generous comments, and, coming from your professional background, the one about psychological insight was praise indeed.
No, I couldn’t resist mentioning Nick Drake. In fact he died of an overdose of anti-depressants aged twenty three because his three albums were not a commercial success. It’s so ironic that now years later, he’s a huge seller and known around the world. For me it’s especially sad because when I was six, he was my close buddy. You can find my ‘memoir of a childhood friend’ on www.brytermusic.com.
I am writing to you to say what an outstanding book "Thai Girl" is.
On a recent trip to Thailand to visit my Thai wife, I was looking for something decent to read on the long flight back so I bought your book and real it all on the flight back to London. Then I read it again when I got home.
I find the story most lifelike and hope you have another book on the same lines upcoming.
I will send my copy of "Thai Girl" to my wife in Thailand and then maybe she'll understand more about falangs. After I've let all my mates read it that is!
I find "Thai Girl" a very interesting story, I believe based on a true story of someone else. Ben – a backpacker traveled to Thailand with no plan, no hotel reservation. His interest was in cheap bars and girls. That was not the place to learn about the country, the culture, and the Thais.
Two people (Emma and Ben) traveled together but different interest. Ben left Emma in hotel room so he could enjoy a bar girl. Poor Emma!!! She had to set a new plan on her own and travel by herself finding new friends. Who would expect a three-year relationship turn out across the country? It should have been a good strong tie for future plan together after graduation.
Fon was looking for a supporter. She didn’t want to sell sex for farang… come and go. She needed more than that …. better life, better chance.
Love to her was not from the heart; it was how you help me. She would love and be with you if you married her and took her away from there. Surprisingly, she talked sex freely to her first-time customer. She flirted, danced, went to bar and drink. She was not a traditional Thai girl as she claimed or wanted to be. She lied to Ben about what people said about her when they were out together so Ben felt sorry for her.
She wanted to marry Ben and go to England. Remember, she took Ben out to bar after bar at night with no care of people eyes. For visitor, Thailand is a beautiful country, travel smart learning about the place where to go and what to see. Contact Tourist Authority of Thailand for free information. Sex selling is happened to be in every country. It is you to decide… get into or not get into it.
Thanks so much for writing to me. I am very pleased when a Thai person has read my book and tells me what they think. I fully agree with you, that too many tourists come to Thailand and learn nothing of the country and its culture because they spend all their time in the bars and looking for women. But the truth is that the scale of the sex industry in Thailand is huge and it has always been a major part of the Thai tourist industry. Most tourists therefore at least go to have a look at the Bangkok nightlife. As you say, prostitution happens everywhere, but in Thailand it is much bigger and more open than almost anywhere else. One of the messages of the book therefore, is to challenge the reader to think about this and what it does for Thai people and the international reputation of Thailand.
Sex tourism attracts some unpleasant farang but surely Ben is far from being one of the worst. He and Emma arrived to enjoy the tropical dream of Thailand and intended to spend their holiday together. And he was very upset when Emma left him, even if this was perhaps his fault for being too curious about the bars in Nana Plaza.
But when he was left alone, he did not go and sleep with bar girls but fell in love with Fon. He was true in his romantic pursuit of her, even though she refused to sleep with him.
And yes, a traditional Thai woman would not go dancing with Ben or be seen with him in public. But we can see Fon's dilemma. She clearly likes Ben and she dreams of escaping from her hard life and perhaps better providing for her family through marriage with a farang. But she is not sure about his intentions and tries not to get too involved. She is a decent woman but you can see her being slowly drawn by the temptation of going with a farang. Perhaps it will destroy her.
You sound quite hard on Fon, but I hope her predicament shows how a young Thai woman can be vulnerable to the attraction and promise of a plausible young farang and how damaging that can become. The story is about the interaction between tourists and the Thai people, exemplified by Ben's friendship with Fon. Mass tourism has a huge impact on a country, especially where the tourists are much richer and can buy what they want with their money. This is a huge issue for Thailand and I hope my book makes readers think about it. There are many better ways of promoting Thailand than through sex tourism.
But I hope you enjoyed the story. It must be a slightly unsettling read for you... as people have said to me, while being sympathetic to the characters, it is also implicitly critical both of foreign travellers and of Thais.
I would love to have the book translated into Thai so that more people could read it!
With best wishes,
Dear Andrew Hicks,
I've just read your book on a business trip to Phuket. Great reading and I recognized a lot of it. Spot on. Being Danish myself, I'm glad you did not introduce any Danish tourists in the book!
I just read your book. It was a long time ago I almost couldn't put a book down!
In one book I saw many things I had to find out after quite some trips to this marvelous country!
It started 15 years ago, with a honeymoon, because I liked Thai food! I went down several times, together with my wife.
Anyway I hope you write another book.
I have just finished reading Thai Girl and at first I thought it was another bland tale of Bangkok Go Go bars. You have highlighted the disgust I feel towards sex tourists , but of course the girls involved in the trade are not all innocents who have been sold into it.Like all
prostitutes throughout the world there are many reasons why they get involved (money to pay for university , consumerism , drug addiction etc), but this is not to diminish the reality of women who are trafficked and sold into sexual slavery ( I am merely stating it is not
as clear cut as that). Check out the Poppy Project website to see the same problems in the UK with women trafficked into the "illegal" sex industry. But I feel you did over simplify the love that can blossom between different cultures. There is an expanding middle class in
Thailand where women want different things from their mothers and are no longer prepared to put up with an unfaithful Thai husband. Not all Thai women see money spent on them as proportional to the love felt for them, I know of such women who have married Westerners and they have been very happy. After all , we are all human beings who desire affection , warmth , companionship and of course love.
Though my observations of your engrossing book could be well wide of the mark of what you were actually telling
Thanks so much for your message and your kind comments. Feedback like this means a lot to me. And no, you are not wide of the mark I was aiming for when I wrote the book and I agree with all of what you say.
I guess your comments about the book over-simplifying the economic element of cross-cultural relationships derive from Jack Russell's tutorial in the middle of the book to eager student, Ben in the Sukhumvit bars. These are the views of a worldly man whose
relationships with Thai women are indeed primarily economic. He suggests to Ben that farang and Thai are fundamentally incompatible because while she judges his love for her by how much money he gives her, he only thinks she loves him if she doesn't ask for money. Like
all broad generalisations, yes, it's a dangerous one. But in any event, you mustn't equate the views of one of my characters with my own opinion. Jack Russell is most certainly not my mouthpiece. Ben learns a lot from him, but most of all Jack challenges him (and I hope the reader) to think about the predicament both of the sex workers and of the lonely middle-aged male for that matter. And I hope the book as such does not itself push any particular line.
After all, it is only fiction and not a thesis!
Well, thanks again and do pass on the word about the book. It's doing well and has just been described in one of the Bangkok monthly glossies as one of the best selling English language novels ever published in Thailand.
I really enjoyed the book as I'm sure my girlfriend would. Is it published in THAI?
I'm delighted you liked the book but sadly it's not available in Thai. I've had several comments like yours and a surprising number of Thais have contacted me to say they have read and enjoyed "Thai Girl". So I'd love to find a publisher who'd do a Thai version of the book. I think it would really sell, just as the original has.
Thanks and best wishes,