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Message 31

Hi Andrew,

I bought “Thai Girl” in Bangkok airport on 9 October 2005. I wasn’t looking for a book to read and I saw it, read the cover and put it back on the stand. I sat down for a while and I kept thinking… will it tell me what I want to know about Thai women. I bought it and it did more than that.

This was my second time in Thailand. I was there for three weeks in June and have just spent another nine days there. You may ask why.

I am forty nine, fit and happy with my life as a teacher, having raised my son since he was four years old. He has just finished his Masters degree.

I have been to Bali many times and love it and people told me to try Thailand. A colleague in Darwin has a Thai wife and they have been together for twenty years. I wanted to see the real people of Thailand, so in July I traveled to her village in Khon Khaen which they were visiting for the first time in sixteen years. I had two nights in Bangkok first and didn’t much like it and couldn’t wait to get to the village. I stayed a week with them in the village and I was in heaven. We were the farangs of the village and I loved it even more because I was single. Believe me, it was like being a king.

Anyway after a week being the centre of attraction, it was time to explore some more of Thailand. They took me to Khon Kaen bus station to catch a bus to Chiang Mai. They headed off and I had about two hours to kill so just sat at the terminal and waited. After about thirty minutes I started to talk to this very beautiful Thai lady who is twenty two and was going off to Pattaya. When it was time for the girl to get her bus, she gave me her mobile number and said to ring her when I get to Chiang Mai. I arrived in Chiang Mai the next morning after thinking of this goddess all night on the bus. Finally I rang her in the afternoon and she said, ‘There’s no work here, can I come to see you?’ You can guess my answer.

The next day she rang my motel to let me know where she was. She finally made it and was still absolutely beautiful. First she had a shower and we went to eat and it all went on from there. I told her I wanted to see her village and she told me she was very poor and wasn’t too sure about this. But I convinced her and also found out she has a little three year old daughter.

We went back to Khon Khaen, hired a car and went to her village. She was right… their house wasn’t much. The other village was a bit better off, but I was welcomed into the village and she talked about her life and how she wanted to build a house for her family. I looked at this and the next day I said I’ll build that house for you and your family, even if we don’t stay together… she and the village touched me so much. Things moved really fast over the next week and the village was all excited.

When it was time to head back to Bangkok, she wanted me to go to Pattaya to meet a couple of her friends. I had never been there and wasn’t interested as I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. But we finally got there and she was in her element. We went to one of the bars and I told her I didn’t want to go in, but she said she wanted me to meet a friend who worked there, so we did. Anyway the friend wasn’t there so she called her on her mobile and we had to pick her up at a club and go out for dinner. I had to pay the club to take her out which I wasn’t happy about but we had a good time and the dinner was great.

But then my girlfriend went to another bar and as I wasn’t happy about it, she promised not to stay long. She knew some of the girls and they were great. She said she herself had worked in the bars a long time ago, but didn’t like it. We looked round Pattaya and I told her I didn’t like it at all and I’d rather be in the villages. We went back to Bangkok the next day.

I have sort of fallen in love with her and she with me I think. Back in Darwin I sent her an msm three times a day for the next ten weeks and sent more money over for the house. The building started and I got photos of it from her and was happy the house was going well. I told her I’d be back in December, but I couldn’t wait and after ten weeks have just been back to Thailand for another nine days.

It was great to see her again and we spent a couple of days in Bangkok before we went to the village. It was good to be back there and the top of the house was built and the workers were doing the bottom half. It really stood out and I was very proud to be doing something for the village as the money goes directly to all of them.

I had to take some things to my colleague’s wife’s village and so off we went. We arrived there late in the afternoon and the family was happy to see us. Anyway, things suddenly changed and me and my girlfriend were fighting. We went back to her village for a few days, but back in Bangkok she didn’t stay with me and went to see her sister. The next night we argued and she left the next day. I spent one more night in Bangkok, very lonely and hating it. I rang a friend who was down the south of Thailand and told him what had happened. He said he was sorry but told me not to give up on all Thai women. Then I flew out and read your book all the way back to Darwin.

So why am I writing this? Because all this has just happened to me and the book helped me to make sense of it.

I’m not bitter about the house, even though it was 20,000 Australian. I was so glad to do it. And I may go back to Thailand at Christmas and see if the house is finished, then continue my journey through other parts of Thailand with a better knowledge of the country.

I have to say that if I’d read the book first, I don’t think it would have made much difference! But reading it after the event has been a real education! Thanks, Andrew for a great book.

Cheers,

Bill R.

 

Dear Bill,

What a story! “Thai Girl”’s only fiction but yours is for real.

So what can I say! Well, first of all, thanks for contacting me and for your warm comments about the book. When I read a travel novel, I want it to tell me something about the place and to make me think, so if my book has done this for you, I’m delighted.

I was married to my English wife for nearly thirty years and when we lived in Hong Kong and Singapore we traveled a lot in Thailand. While I now have a Thai wife and am writing this from our home in Surin, I claim no special experience or insight into your troubles. But I share your love of the rhythm of life in the rice villages, though as a farang living there, the sense of being special soon fades and reality intervenes, which is probably a good thing. And I too love the rural Thais; they have something that people from our urban societies have lost, though one should not over-romanticize the harsh life they lead, trying to scrape a living from the soil.

I don’t have to tell you that relationships are difficult where there are huge gaps in age, culture and wealth and when you have little opportunity to be together. Of course Thais do become involved in a relationship just as we do, and perhaps the most positive interpretation of your experience is that as you, the farang prepares to depart, she withdraws her attachment and distances herself from you to minimize the pain of parting.

How can one make these generalizations, but I sense that Thais are more practical in their relationships than we are. Is the friendship viable in the long term, and will it provide the continuing practical support to continue to sustain life? If not, they won’t waste any more emotional energy on it but move on and get on with life. Though if the guy turns up again, then maybe they’ll go for it again.

We in the West have this ancient courtly tradition of falling in love and pining for the lady from afar and it can be very damaging to be broken hearted for too long. While Asians can be as passionate and involved as anyone, they are more reluctant to suffer this pain and risk this damage, I suspect, and so more readily move on.

If you haven’t ended up bitter about this, then all the more credit you. You have made a contribution to many people less well off than yourself. And I hope you can look back and remember this as one of life’s most intense experiences… and perhaps return for more!

After all, if you choose a roller coaster, you cannot complain if it goes down as often as it goes up. But go up it certainly will!

Do pass on the book and tell your friends it can be bought online from www.dcothai.com. And I’d love to hear from them too when they’ve read it, even if they have yet to meet their first Thai lady!

All the best,

Andrew.

 

Message 32

Hi Andrew

Congratulations on writing an excellent novel. I feel that you captured the real essence of Thailand and the traditional Isan women. I found myself not far from tears for both Fon and Ben at their parting and the dilemma they both faced in not being able to be together.

I have travelled Thailand frequently especially around the Udonthani region where my wife comes from.  She,like Fon is from a little village and made her living from selling food in the city and cleaning for more affluent families.  I think Jack was not far off in his summary of the

difference in cultures and expectations of both Thai woman and Westernmen.  However, it can work if you both are prepared to work at it extremely hard and learn about each others'cultures and be prepared to compromise.  I love my wife dearly and have also gained a beautiful Thai family who I also love. My visits to my wife's village fill my soul with happiness and have taught me that you do not need money to be truly happy.  I long for the day when the Thai economy lends itself to be more rewarding to the rice farmers. Over the years I have seen Thailand become more Westernised and I can see the problems and damage this is doing to the Thai culture.

Thanks again for an excellent read and I hope you do a follow as you've left the novel with ample opportunity for volume two.  Thanks also for showing the Isan Woman the true respect they deserve.

Andrew F.

 

Dear Andrew

I was really pleased to get your message with all your glowing commentsabout the book.  Without this, being an author is really very unrewarding as, while the sales figures are encouraging, you personal view of the book makes it all worthwhile.

And I really liked what you had to say.  Yes, I too believe that cross-cultural marriages are a great enterprise and can be very successful, offering each party a very special extra something, just as you describe.

I'm glad you felt moved by the book and that you appreciated the dignity of Fon as the representative of Thai women from Isan.  All too often, Bangkok novels are about bar girls who have of course lost much of their dignity, which is hardly something for Thailand to celebrate.

Neverteless, Fon is still enigmatic to the farang suitor.  I hope she is the decent, hard working woman she says she is.  But of course I don't really know; I'm only the author!  

Do pass on word of the book and keep in touch.  Are you based in Thailand or in England?

Many thanks again.

Andrew.

 

Message 33

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for writing such a thought provoking novel.Although I found the storyline a little thin, I enjoyed it! Your development of the character of Fon

was excellent. On the other hand, Bens character was articularly weak.

Now the criticism. Your continual reference to Bar girls as "whores" and "sluts" I found particularly offensive and typical of conservative western thinking. Your inference that prostitutes are the same the world over and the lowest form of humanity shows a lack of understanding of the thai sex industry in general.

May I ask have you ever spent time in pattaya? I think not.

A friend of mine who back-packed around thailand (having never visited Pattaya) refered to the city as "the place where big fat German men have sex with little boys".

This generalisation is typical of westerners with a tainted and preconceived view of

Thailand, Pattaya and the sex industry. I get the impression from reading your novel that you share the view.

For your benefit and the benefit of other forum contributors who have no experience of the city, here is the reality of life in Pattaya. Depending upon the time of year there can be as many as 20,000 girls working the bars in pattaya (to you that means 20,000 whores and sluts). The majority of them are there quite simply because they have children and families to support. The majority are charming, courteous, polite, hard-working and DECENT HUMAN BEINGS.

The majority of the girls work in beer bars as opposed to short time bars and gogo bars. The vast majority of "relationships" between girls (whores and sluts) and Farang (sex tourists and drug takers) in Pattaya are long term encounters which involve companionship, friendship and dare I say the word - SEX. The Farang pay the girls for their TIME, irrespective of the fact the sex takes place or not. The overwhelming majority of Farang in Pattaya do not take drugs, do not seek sex with minors, are not sexually frustrated predators of thai girls, and in many cases are respected and wealthy individuals who above all respect and understand the bar girls. The beauty of Pattaya is its openness and honesty - a community where girls are free to carry out there business without prejudice from farang and thai alike.

On my first visit to Thailand 5 years ago I met a 23yr old degree educated accountant named Rin (name changed to protect her identity). Originally from Udon, her family sent her to university in Bangkok. After completing her education, she remained in Bangkok to work. As a junior accountant Rin earned 8000 baht per month. Rin was a virgin when we met. After spending 5 days together I gave Rin 4000 baht partly because she had used 3 days of here precious annual leave to be with me and partly because 4000 baht meant far more to her than it did to me.

Rin gladly accepted the money and remained a virgin long after we parted. In your

opinion would Rin be a whore and a slut for accepting money from me after spending time in my company? Of course not!! Similarly, neither are the vast majority of Pattaya's bar girls who take money from Farang in return for friendship, companionship and less importantly, sex.

Perhaps when you write the sequel you will take Ben and Fon to Pattaya. I'm sure they will have a great time!

Regards,

Donald, England

 

Dear Donald,

Thanks for letting me have your reactions to "Thai Girl". I always appreciate hearing from readers as it is fascinating for me to see the different ways in which people react to the book. What one thinks of a book is a very personal thing and for myself, I find that some highly recommended books satisfy me and some just don't.

I'm relieved that you liked Fon though; if she, the main character fails to come alive, the story's a non-starter. Strangely I think Ben is less important. He is everyman visiting Thailand for the first time with whom the reader confronts various aspects of life in Thailand and, I hope identifies to some extent.

Responding to the points you make, I am surprised that you take me to task so strongly for calling bar girls 'whores and sluts' because I don't! I can find virtually no authorial comment on the bar girls at all except physical description, sometimes complimentary, sometime not, on the rare occasions they appear. The comments that you object to must therefore be found in the dialogues between the characters. But on scanning the book, nowhere can I find anyone calling them whores or slut. In fact Ben and the others refer to them as bar girls or sex workers, generally without any critical overtones. The only exception is during the debate on the beach at Koh Samet when Samantha, a stroppy walk-on part says that the 'working girls' in Bangkok are just in it for the money and 'even look like they're enjoying it'. She has to say this because unless somebody says something negative, you can't even begin to have a discussion! Maca and Emma then put her straight in no uncertain terms, saying that many women, especially those from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are often forced into prostitution and that anyway it's no disgrace to be a prostitute; instead you should blame those who exploit them.

In the other major discussion on this topic, Jack Russell, the thinking man's sex tourist shows considerable respect for the sex workers. To him (at p. 152) they are 'healers and therapists' and 'members of a caring profession'. So I don't think my characters slag off the bar girls either. They see them in a sympathetic light, and if not doing this work by choice, as victims of their economic circumstances.

Ben and his companions debate the complex circumstances that lead to a booming sex industry in Thailand, though the book is not primarily about bar girls. Focussing on Fon, it exemplifies a young woman finding an independent life for herself without apparently selling sex. As a travel or backpacker novel it attempts to depict the attitude of young travelers on first arrival here, as they try to understand Thai society, including of course rural decline, urbanization and commercial sex.

Nonetheless, while not condemning the bar girls, the travellers do find the sight of a fat old farang hand in hand with a slim young Thai girl to be pretty disgusting. From my notes of many conversations over the years with those that I've met, that's exactly what they do generally think. So does that make me judgmental about the sex industry or am I merely reporting the typical attitude of western travellers?

Of the two sex tourists in the book, Stig Ruud in Chapter 6 is pretty ugly with 'a massive belly, a stubbly receding chin and piggy eyes'. Emma can hardly bear to sit next to him in the mini bus, but Stig turns out to be 'one of the more engaging characters they had met so far, proving that travelling confounds first impressions and broadens the mind'. Later on in the book, sex tourist, Jack Russell is middle-aged, short, dumpy and bald (page 151), but Ben finds him to be pleasant and thoughtful and not an evil exploiter of vulnerable young women. So they get a sympathetic write-up too.

I have also offended you by the couple of times my characters refer to Pattaya as the big sex resort, or whatever, and you ask me if I have ever been there. I first went with my wife in 1978 when Pattaya and Patpong were really wild, and I've been back many times since. Having lived in SE Asia for twenty years or so, I've been pretty much everywhere… how else could I describe the Full Moon Party for example without having experienced it. But as for Lamai, Patpong, Pattaya and Patong, I am definitely now an ex-Pat. Not being much of a drinker, I prefer the less developed resorts such as Koh Samet and Koh Chang, which is why I set the novel there.

"Thai Girl" is only a story and not a thesis, but I hope it gives food for thought without pushing any particular agenda. One reader who wrote to me (Message 10) suggested that it's strength is that it raises issues without shoving a particular point of view down the readers throat. But I'm not sure you'd agree with that opinion, which worries me.

My own view is that the longer I live in Thailand, the more I realize that broad and moralistic generalizations simply don't stand up to close scrutiny. What you see in the book is visitors from the West trying to make sense of things in Thailand from the post-Christian viewpoint that the sale of sexual services demeans both parties. Here of course there is much greater acceptance of commercial sex as a means of raising money for the family, something that first time visitors are unlikely to appreciate.

A popular novel thus cannot answer any major questions about society, but it can raise them, I hope in an interesting way. The front cover of the book reads, "Seductive, scheming and available? Or is the Thai Girl modest, sweet and innocent… is it she who is the victim?" Perhaps that is what the book is all about.

Andrew Hicks.

 

Message 34

Hi, Andrew,

I finished reading "Thai Girl" tonight and it was a good read. As an American, I was not offended by the Bush-bashing, one gets used to that, especially outside of our borders, but I do have to say I thought it was the weakest part of the book. I'm not a Bush supporter

and voted for the other side both times, but I still found it a collection of tired old cliches that took away from the story. I was glad when I got through that part and was reminded why backpackers are not my cup of tea any more.

But that said, the book is excellent, and I enjoyed it immensely. Achara will read it next, probably on Samet. I was curious about the timeline though. Ben was in Bangkok on election day when Thaksin was first elected prime minister, and that was in January 2001. But later on Koh Chang, the backpackers are talking about 9/11 as if it had happened months before;

surely Ben and Emma didn't spend a year or more over here. Since they return to Blighty during Songkran, I assume it was four months or so, and you just condensed world events a little.

It was also fun figuring out where places were. Naga Plaza was certainly not hard, but I figure the Georgia in Soi 7 was actually the Atlanta in Soi 2. I have a feeling Freddie's Massage was Annie's. Thermae's was hard to miss. The Regal was obviously the Royal.

But despite Ben's protestations to Fon about not taking a bargirl out, I found it somewhat suspicious when early in Chapter 21: "He decided to head off to Sukhumvit Road to have a few beers and see how the dice would fall." Then it's the next day; I wonder what Ben did that night! And did Penny not count as a lady when he told Fon he had not been with anyone?

I've been in Thailand 14 of the last 18 years (next Tuesday will be the 18th anniversary of my first arrival in Thailand), and I've known many people with a similar relationship: relatively wealthy Western man meets poor, younger Isaan lady and gets married, though it's not

always so lop-sided. I'm a case in point. My wife, Achara, is from Bangkok. Her family actually is somewhat wealthier than I am. We're almost the same age: I'm 47, she's 45, and we've been married for 11 1/2 years and together for two years before that. She's better educated than I am, and we met in America, not in Thailand. We were both students at the University of Hawaii, both studying Public Health; for me it was my one and only master's degree, but it was her second master's, and she's an assistant professor at Chula now.

Well, thanks again for writing your great book. I'm sure Achara will enjoy it, too as I know her taste. It'll be a good read for a holiday on Koh Samet.

Don

 

Dear Don,

I was very pleased to receive your comments on the book and I'm delighted that you enjoyed reading it, perhaps even prompting your trip to Samet.

I take on board what you say about America-bashing. The story is primarily about backpackers and their perception of life generally, of Thailand, and of course the war on terror. Drawing on my notes of conversations I've had with many travellers, I tried to reflect the passion and emotion, sometimes exaggerated, that this topic evokes. I've never met an American travelling in Thailand who supported the invasion of Iraq and given that Ben and Darren argue for getting in our retaliation first, I tried to give the debate some balance. But yes, maybe it was simply too long and overdone.

Jim Eckardt who gave the book an otherwise favourable review in The Nation said exactly the same thing as you did about this bit of the book. You might have a look at "An Interview with the Author" on this website where I was accused, lightheartedly I think, of being anti-American, which I most certainly am not. If I was, I'd have put in some horrible American characters, but Chuck, the only American, is shy, sensitive and thoughtful and perhaps the nicest guy in the whole book!

Jim Eckhardt also picked up your point about the time discrepancy. I simply wanted to squeeze the Thaksin election and the Afghan invasion into Ben's short holiday! Of course you are quite right in what you say, though I put a craven disclaimer at the front of the book admitting the distortion, which hardly lets me off the hook!

I'm glad you enjoyed playing 'spot the real hotel and bar', on which you score pretty highly. And I'm also impressed by your noticing the ambiguity of Ben's solitary nighttime visit to the sois and byeways of Sukhumvit. Of my friends who read the draft, none of them spotted this, but I still didn't want to flag it up more prominently.

For many of the characters, there may be a gap between what they profess and the actuality and with Ben and Fon trying desperately to understand each other, this may be something that the reader finds intriguing. It's all open to the reader's interpretation, including the ending.

So I hope you enjoy Samet and pass on the word to people you meet that Sunthorn Phu is not the only writer to have featured this beautiful though threatened island!

Andrew

 

Message 35

Dear Andrew,

Just returned from Bangkok where I purchased your book and did not put it down until I was finished. This book hits the nail on thehead about the ladies in Thailand. I have visited Thailand many times and lived there many years ago. My current tirak (girlfriend) and I

broke up because I would not support her acoholic father for 6000 baht per month.

It's like the movie 'Good Morning Vietnam" where Chintara Sukaphat, who is a Thai actress, tells Robin Williams 'we not same, am so different"--talk about life imitating art! Will there possibly be a movie?

Regards ,

Dennis S.

 

Dear Dennis,

I'm delighted that you liked the book, and yes, I think a movie could be amazing. But then I'm biased!

Is there anyone out there who knows how to find someone who'd take an interest in the idea of promoting a movie?

Andrew

 

Message 36

Hi Andrew,

I have travelled to Thailand many times over many years. Your wonderful

book taught me a little more about Thailand and it's people, all

cleverly wrapped around a romance. An excellent read!

David

 

Message 37

Mr. Hicks,

Thank you for writing this book. It is easy to read because it is not boring. It is disturbing to read, at times, because of the heavy subject of Thailand’s sex industry. It spoke to me nonetheless, and that was the main reason I decided to read it.

Although Ben can be considerate, he seems rather immature, and it turns some readers like me off that he is turned on so much. Your discussion on the interactions between Thais and Westerners is probably accurate, and your ability to understand Thai culture so well impressed me. The relatively low status of Thai women and children is one thing that bugs me about Thai culture, and thus I don’t find Thai culture beautiful, although it has some good qualities.

Much has been said about Thailand’s sex industry, and a large fraction thereof is said by Westerners who seem to have only superficial understanding of Thai society. It is nice to see a book that talks about the subject from a less biased perspective. Sorry I am reluctant to say “unbiased”; I believe that as human beings, we all have bias, although each individual’s bias varies in magnitude.

Having known someone in my childhood who was deceived and forced into prostitution, punters’ ignorance of the scale of damage their patronage has on the lives of countless innocent boys and girls often frustrates me. Some individuals choose to be in the industry, while some are forced into it. I knew the girl before she entered the trade. The guy who said he loved her suggested that they elope, and instead he took her to a brothel. She was fifteen. She could not make an escape until a year later. She can’t bear to look people she used to know in the eye again. She was from Isaan.

On a separate note, when asked by Westerners why some Thai women are reluctant to be with Westerners (and occasionally called a racist), I always have difficulty explaining. Perhaps the matter is not something you can explain adequately in a sentence or two, but a book can reasonably accommodate it.

Thanks again. Sorry if you have difficulty making sense of my writing. Learning English is a continuous process. My nationality is Thai, but my view may not be representative of that of Thai people.

Best wishes,

Anonymous

 

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks so much for writing to me as I'm particularly pleased and interested when I hear from a Thai. I'm glad you liked the book and that it said something to you.

Yes, on arriving in Bangkok, Ben is very immature and his unquestioning interest in the bar scene turns Emma off in a big way. But it's not long before he begins to think about things, and a part of the story is his journey through Thailand to a more mature undertanding of the hard realities of life here. Certainly your mention of the girl you knew from Isaan who was tricked into the sex industry is a disturbing case in point.

I am always anxious that a Thai person picking up my book will think, 'Oh no, not another opinionated Westerner lecturing us about things he doesn't fully understand.' Yes, we all have a bias or viewpoint, but I'm relieved if you think that the discussions of the characters, who are trying to understand what is going on around them, raise important issues and find an interesting balance of views.

I hope the book is broadly sympathetic to all of humanity, both Thais and Westerners, but if Westerners have something of a bad reputation among Thais, then it's probably been

well earned. As Ben says to Fon, it's all too easy for Westerners who've been working all hours during the year to fall for the 'tropical paradise' that's offered to them, to ask no questions and go wild.

So again, many thanks and do pass on the book to your friends. With my best wishes,

Andrew

 

Message 38

Hello Andrew,

I did catch up with Thai Girl and thought it was very well done. You explained in a clever way how so much about Thai society is both captivating and illusory. Unlike most of the other attempts at dealing with the cultural conflicts, it gives both sides and imparts some lasting understanding. It's a credit to you. I'll be recommending it to every ignorant bastard who thinks he knows it all when it comes to matters of the heart. And there are a lot of them!

Cheers,

Alan.

 

Message 39

Hi Mr Andrew,

Your book was an excellent read, thanks! I could fully empathize with Ben in his relationship with Fon, and was also caught up in a similar situation like him, so in love with a Thai girl I've known not for all too long. Then it struck me that while being warm, friendly and ever so affectionate on the outside, their inner world is so hard to grasp to say the least. And no, I'm not much of a farang being just 2 hours away in the concrete jungle of Singapore. In the eyes of the westerner, I could just be a Thai as well. However in the eyes of the Thai, I'm just like any other tourist here on a wasteful holiday, lots of spare cash to spend and being crazy getting a tan. While left in a crazy spin and feeling dejected in the end (just like Ben was) I'm still very much in love with the country and its friendly inhabitants. I've also learnt it the hard way that cross-cultural relationships can be so absolutely difficult at times. 

Cheers Andrew, for writing such a wonderful novel which i could really relate to.

 

Message 40

Hi Andrew,

You may not remember having met me in Asia Books at the Nana Square centre (Sukhumvit Road) in January - but we had our photo taken together in the shop (and developed on the spot). I have stuck a copy into the frontispiece of "Thai Girl".

I just write to tell you how much I enjoyed your novel, which I recently finished reading. I saved the best of the books I brought home until last - and it lived up to expectations! Not least in terms of excellent "production values" - quality of type and paper, spelling and punctuation, etc. - although I have to say that some publishers seem to cobble their productions together in an exceedingly hasty manner. One in particular, "Lady of Isaan" by a German chap, had a beautiful cover, but read as if it had been dictated to someone over a bad phone line - indeed, dictated to a Thai secretary who spoke barely any English and was writing things down on a purely phonetic basis!

If you recall, I was with my friend Noi when I met you. We were off to visit her family near Sisaket in Isaan the following day, and you recommended a Khmer temple called Khao Phra Viharn on the Cambodian border. Many thanks for that tip: we had a brilliant day out - it was about 80 kilometres from her village. Absolutely stunning views too - from the ledge looking out over Cambodia and Laos. The only problem was I had to pay TWICE: once at the Thai check-point, then again at the Cambodian one! But at least we did not need passports - despite its being nominally on the Cambodian side, according to an American couple we met.

When I read your novel, I found many uncanny parallels between that day and the visit your hero makes to his Thai girlfriend's village and to Phnom Rung - right down to the whole family (and several other village kids) all piling into the back of the pick-up truck hired as transport! I learnt a lot from your book about familial relations among Thais (particularly about the matriarch's powerful position!),the history of Isaan and its difference from other parts of Thailand, its musical traditions,its female population, economic reasons for migration to Bangkok, and so on and so forth. Like the couple in your novel, we too arrived at dawn, and went to the market first thing - followed in due course by culture shock when it came to meal-time!

All in all, your book proved "a rattling good yarn", as my father used to say, and was well constructed. The only loose end I noticed was the total non-reaction of the Thai Girl to the transvestite's poisonous postcards - they seemed to make no difference to her attitude, nor did she mention them in conversation. But maybe I missed something, and it is NOT a loose end, after all?

Good luck with book sales!

All the best -

David

 

Dear Dave,

It's great to hear from you and of course I remember the photo opportunity in the bookshop. Things like that don't happen to me every day.

I'm glad you enjoyed Khao Phra Viharn. I think it's one of the great Khmer temples and the position on top of the cliff is spectacular. Yes, it is in Cambodia and so both the Thais and the Cambodians exact their tolls before you go in! I've probably been there about ten times, which is where I got my description of Ben and Fon visiting the temple, though I moved them west to the temple at Khao Phnom Rung.

And of coure I'm really pleased that you enjoyed the book. I was intrigued by your mention of a loose end... that Fon never mentions to Ben anything about the postcard he sent her written for him by Odin, the jealous restauranteur. It

was my instinct that Fon, playing haughty and hard to get as she does, would simply not mention the post card, and that Ben, fearing what Odin might have said, wouldn't dare mention it either. Anyway, somehow I cannot imagine a Thai saying, "Oh yes, and thank you for the lovely postcard." Nor even "What the hell was that crap you wrote to me on that crazy postcard?" It'll all just be smoothed over and ignored.

So do please tell your friends about "Thai Girl" and pass it on to your friends as I want it to be read! It's number two bestseller to the Da Vinci Code in Singapore at the moment!

I'm in Hampshire looking out at the rain for the rest of the 'summer' before heading back to Thailand. What are you up to?

Andrew