Book Reviews – Page 7
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More about the Book
I've been a magazine writer and editor for the best part of twelve years and if I've learned anything it's that technically brilliant writing does not necessarily translate into compelling storytelling. Exceptional writers like John Burdett, who excel at both are just that: exceptional.
I read THAI GIRL off the back of a Haruki Murakami book and, perhaps inevitably after this, found the writing so pedestrian I was tempted to stop reading it immediately. However, I was quickly drawn into the story and this is where the author's talent really lies: he has a natural gift for narrative. No matter that there's no strong plot; the dialogue, at times, is verging on the ludicrous. (Andrew, I don't know where you did your research on 'yoof-speak' but it's pretty wide of the mark) and the characters mostly flat and in danger of degenerating into unsympathetic caricatures (although, in fairness, this is probably a more a consequence of the nature of the characters more than any defect in the ability of the writer). Despite these weaknesses, Hicks' raw talent for storytelling keeps the reader turning the pages and this is the prime directive in any kind of writing.
The real heart and soul of this book lies in the character of Fon (the 'Thai girl'). Beautifully observed and drawn, a striking metaphor for Thai culture itself, it is through her that Hicks adeptly explores the central theme of most books of this genre: the difficulty, frustration, pain and, perhaps ultimately, the futility of the foreigner trying to come to terms with the mercurial nature of Thailand. It is to his credit - and I believe displays and reflects the respect he has for this country - that he chose not to use the hackneyed milieu of the Bangkok bar scene as a vehicle to achieve this.
One thing I particularly enjoyed (and Andrew, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm sure parody wasn't actually your intention and I hope you don't take this the wrong way) was the 'travellers' in this book came off as what I've always believed them to be - witless cretins. Their asinine discussion of world politics and their eagerness to spew forth ill-informed gibberish on any subject I found hilariously accurate, as I'm sure would anyone with half a brain who's spent more than five seconds on Khao San Road or any of the islands.
I also applaud your bravery in how you handled the ending of the story (although I'm not sure how this will affect your film rights - it's not very 'Hollywood' is it?), but, as I believe you have mentioned somewhere in this thread, to soft-soap the end the the story would have been a cop-out and negated the main point of the book.
Anyway Andrew, if you happen to read this, well done for getting Thai Girl published. It's a good book and I'd recommend it to anyone. I'll certainly look out for your new book, MY THAI GIRL AND I.
Message 61 - Andrew's Reply
I reply gratefully to all your comment, however received and I wrote a long and grateful one to mkasok for his about THAI GIRL. I was a bit defensive about the ‘yoof speak’ but said I’d worked pretty hard at getting this right, getting my son, Mike to read the draft novel and red pencil some of the lingo he thought wasn’t current.
As a university lecturer in UK, I thought I was pretty much up to speed on yoof speak… i even went to Australia to research Strine and met many young American travelers. “Hey dude, that may sound hackneyed but it’s still cool, man!’ would you believe it!
And yes, I guess I was sending up the travelers a bit. They think they’re so cool and experienced, but infuriatingly they don’t have nearly as many wrinkles as me.
Thanks for all your nice comments, and incidentally I’ve signed an option agreement with a small film company in LA for THAI GIRL. I particularly like them because they think the ending is absolutely right for the story and want to keep it that way for the movie. If it ever gets shot, that is!
I have recently finished reading your book ‘MY THAI GIRL AND I’. Your website seems to be devoted to comments about your first book ‘THAI GIRL’ which I have not read. However I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about your latest publication.
In a typically English way I would like to start with the positive but I must admit find it hard to come up with a great deal.
However I did at least read it from cover to cover so something must have kept me turning the pages. I bought
the book because I felt it would be interesting to read a fellow ‘farang’ Englishman’s take on the Land of Smiles. I also vainly hoped you might deliver what is proclaimed in the sleeve notes ie ‘If you want to know what makes ‘Thai girls’ tick, you’ve found it’. I should have known better.
Until the last few chapters in which you display a glimpse of insightfulness you portray yourself throughout the book as a complete doormat the typical innocent abroad and Cat as a scheming and demented spendthrift. I would have thought a sexagenarian with your travel experience would have already discovered all women regardless of nationality are at least a little bit mad. Whether this is to do with conditioning or hormones or something else the only way to have any kind of successful relationship with them is to find one whose particular neurosis you can live with. In this regard you seem to have found a good partner in Cat.
One irritating feature in your writing is to continually justify your acquiescent behaviour as ‘going with the flow’ and in so doing that you are in some way gaining a kind of spiritual enlightenment, as if getting a little closer to nirvana (perhaps a hangover from your ‘self-actualisation through macramé’ days). In reality you have just been had and taken advantage of which happens to us all on occasions. However you seem to revel in it and portray yourself as completely spineless.
Some of the book’s chapters deal with topics I identify with and I completely concur with your experiences with the British Embassy in Bangkok. Things have somewhat changed since the time you wrote about. They now employ a private company to handle visa applications and the whole process has become a money making scam. I am currently trying to complain to my MP but am not making much headway.
There are indeed too many funerals and where my particular Thai girl, Tik comes from near Uttradict, there is a ceremony nearly every week. Like Cat her elder sister ‘It’ (yes that was her nickname) died last year, she was the same age as me. I had only previously witnessed small portions of a Thai funeral ceremony but this time I see the whole week long ritual from the moment the body arrives till the final family gathering after the cremation. It is a fascinating, sad, happy, tedious and sometimes just unbelievable event.
I too have been suckered into helping with the cost of building a grey concrete wall and with the clearing and raising up of land with poor quality soil for no apparent reason. Thankfully there the similarities end. Tik has not ever insisted I build her a house or provide one for her family yet she is the only member of her family without property of her own.
We currently rent a town house for £50 per month which suits us fine. I do intend to buy a house and put it in her name. However it will be one that is already built as there are far too many vacant properties in Thailand.
I too find myself short of money and in need of an income but I could never be as presumptuous as to assume anyone would wish to publish let alone read my own journal of experiences living with a Thai lady in Chiang Mai. As it is I am never sure if they bore or entertain my friends with whom I currently share them with.
I am not sure who are the intended readers of your book as in my experience ‘ farang’ already living here have too entrenched opinions about Thailand to want to read another persons impressions. Whilst people back in England may be intrigued with life in the Land of Smiles tend not to be able to relate to it an also take the view that it is a place old men come to procure young women.
Last but not least the caricature of yourself on the cover bears little resemblance to the photos of you. The caricature looks more like a bush whacking Aussie.
Regards & Best wishes
Chris & Tik
Just finished "MY THAI GIRL AND I" and I thought that it was a great read. Much better than most books I have read on "expat life", so kudos to Mr. Hicks.
I would even go so far as to say that it is the best book that I have read in this category, unlike "Confessions of a Bangkok PI." which is probably the worst piece of trash ever printed (in my opinion). And who was responsible for that book coming to print?
Hmm. Oh yes, Stephen Leather.
Mitzi on www.thaivisa.com
As I also live in an isolated Isaan village there were many things in Andrew Hick's book "MY THAI GIRL AND I" that I could easily relate to from my experiences - some of his reactions to various situations may have been completely different to mine but in being able to see myself in many of his experiences provided me with many moments of appreciation and enjoyment.
The day to day challenges, frustrations and fun of living here are never ending and so I envy the fact that someone has the capacity to capture some of these experiences.
As the book is non-fiction and a great attempt to share a farang's experiences of village life in the North-East of Thailand, I believe many people like me will appreciate and enjoy sharing his experiences.
I have also read "MY THAI GIRL AND I", and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone living in Thailand or considering doing so - as Valjean says, it falls into the "required reading" category.
Those of us who have already had some of the experiences described in Hicks' book, will smile and perhaps feel comforted that they are not alone. He writes about some of the difficulties and frustrations we all encounter, but with empathy and humour, with the result that the book does not descend into a gripe. Those who have not yet made the move, will perhaps learn something about what to anticipate.
I had read and enjoyed Hicks' novel, "THAI GIRL", which was why I bought the latest, autobiographical, work, as soon as it appeared on the shelves. I have no interest in books which simply criticise Thailand and Thai people; those attitudes are far too frequently encountered everywhere. But from his novel I was sure that the new book would have a more positive outlook - and although he does not shy away from describing his negative experiences, the author compensates with his humour, candidly admitting defeat on more than one occasion.
My summary is: "great book, read it".
I finished “MY THAI GIRL AND I” last week and found it a very enjoyable read. While there’s nothing in Andrew’s tone to suggest he’s preaching his point of view, I found there was a lot of wisdom in the book to be applied to making a life, my life, in Thailand.
The book is in a lot of respects a collection of essays that go roughly chronologically over a period of a few years. From meeting his future wife, to the first village visits, to moving there and building a house. Like many of us, he’s at an age where the days past are less than those ahead and he takes thoughtful stock of the implications in making his life in Issan.
Recently I bought a house, (or more correctly I should say I bought my Thai wife a house), that needs a fair amount of remodeling. It’s so easy to get frustrated with the standards, the approach, the family and friends who come to help out, my Thai wife’s concept of things – you name it and it’s possible to go stark raving mad.
The book was a good companion as I shared Andrew’s tribulations and how he comes around to the important lessons to be learned in adapting and accepting, of knowing when to stand your ground and when to let it slide a bit and perhaps most importantly to know when you’ve’ been beat fair and square by your Thai partner’s unassailable logic and big smile and thus to beat a strategic retreat while you still have a modicum of honor. I could laugh and cry with him as I experience similar adventures.
I consider this book worthwhile, if not required, reading for any farang dreaming of moving out to the village or to Thailand with his Thai partner and especially if building a house. If you’ve done it I’m sure you’ll be like me thinking “yes, yes it was exactly like that!”. Andrew speaks with heartfelt honestly about his frustrations in the village, with his family, getting things done, isolation, language, retirement – the whole kaleidoscope of life.
All things that we expats wail about he expresses with a realistic view on the way things are and a wise outlook that it is after all a different culture he’s stepped into. He shares a very personal inner perspective on the journey of life and why he is there – that place, people and time for this juncture of his life.
Check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Just a quick note to say I enjoyed "MY THAI GIRL AND I" immensely. Overall it has a very positive feel and I laughed out loud in many places. I don't have the time to read a book from cover to cover in one go any more so I found the layout of short self-contained stories very convenient when I only had an hour or so.
I started the book in Wichianburi hospital waiting for Mike to be born. Needless to say none of it registered, so I started again from the beginning when I returned to England.
I have a terrible memory, which I put down to being thrown off a horse when I was 13. Reading your stories reminded me of so many things that have happened to Kai and I. So many experiences that are "same same, but different."
If you get bored now you have finished the book, why not translate it into Thai? Then Kai can read it rather than me summarising chunks for her (joking).
Although I am learning to go with the flow and not get wound up about things, one was absolutely set in stone, building our house. It was all so simple. Until I retire in January and commute some of my pension, I have no money. Therefore no house until next year. The plan was fool proof. Retire, build house, downsize house in England to small terrace, replace money in bank as a safety net for things like unforseen medical expenses. I could also keep a very inexpert eye on the builders, whilst living with the in-laws.
I had been on at Kai a bit saying we should at least start looking for a builder. A couple of weeks ago,two days before we returned to England, a builder from Bangkok turned up with Wattana, his local site manager (I think). I still had a bit of a fever and things were going over my head. We already had a good idea of the floor plan from a book I bought months ago. The builder had the same book so this was quickly decided. I couldn't understand why we needed to choose the colour of the roof tiles at this early stage, but did so anyway. Then the local headman came round and after studying a calendar decided that 10th August 2008 was the luckiest day of the year to raise the first post. The old people (i.e. about my age) all looked at the calendar and agreed. Even Kai, the only person who knows the state of my finances, sided with the opposition. Anyway I only had to pay 500,000 to start, a further 500,000 in a couple of months and the balance in January. What rich farang doesn't keep that sort of loose change in his back pocket?
Just to rub it in, the 2009 calendar was checked. January was a complete no no. We could start building in February, but the first lucky day to move in would not be until September. Eight months of living with the in-laws and eating the worst Issan food this side of Issan.
So in two days it was done and dusted. We visited a couple of farang houses Wattana had already built and which were to a perfectly good standard, agreed the floor plan, fittings and electrics and Kai signed the contract. A phone call to my bank and the first 500,000 baht was winging it's way to Wattana's acount. I have decided not to open my bank statements for the next few months.
Finally, the American just got lucky. Most of Phetchabun is flat, but you can see the hills and it is certainly a bit cooler than the north east.
All the best.
Hello Mr. Hicks,
I came across MY THAI GIRL AND I a couple of weeks ago at the local bookstore. As I was picking it up to read the back cover, my wife said "you no waste your money on this book. You no like this kind of book" She is right in a way. I usually stay away from "expat" books finding them to be inaccurate, culturally limiting and often times extremely stereotypical, especially the gross inaccuracies surrounding Thai women, culture, and customs so I tend to stay clear of books in this "genre".
A few days ago we were back at the same bookstore. While my wife was looking at baby magazines I wandered over to the "Asia Books" section and finally read the back cover of MY THAI GIRL AND I. I decided to shell out the 450 baht and am so glad I did.
"MY THAI GIRL AND I" is probably the best book I have ever read, not just about Issan but Thailand in general. You never sound like an "authority" or egotistical. You wrote a book that was thought provoking, sincere, and objective.
Your book sort of parallels my life to a certain extent. My wife attended Ramkhumhang University and we lived in Ramkhumhang (soi 22). She is still 5 credits shy of her degree. Our dog is a product of Chatuchack market and I have experienced the "marathons" with my wife. OK, I can go on and on, but I wanted to ask you where i can pick up a copy of "THAI GIRL"? The local bookstores in town are out or "no have" at this time. I buy many of my books through Kinokuniya.com in Bangkok. Do you know if they stock it?
[Yes, they do. Andrew.]
A few words of appreciation, to say how much I enjoyed reading your latest book, MY THAI GIRL AND I.
It’s a shared experience for me, especially as I have just finished building a house in Sakon Nakhon. Therefore you are more than welcome to stay if you need a proper bed for the night, a hot shower and a full English breakfast. However one of the pitfalls may be, understanding a Yorkshire Thai accent but what the hell!
As you don't want to become an alcoholic, have knee replacements or tend buffalo all day, have you considered that other useless pastime of the hoktegenarians, golf?
Thanks again for a few pleasant hours of reading.
Mal and Um
I too hope that Ben and Yut make [a life for themselves with their new shop in your village].
After reading "MY THAI GIRL AND I" I have found myself really caring about what happens to people in the book who I have never met and am never likely to. That’s maybe why I enjoyed it more than "Thai Girl". Because it’s about real people.
All the best.