Dec 122008

Bangkok 8: A Novel, by John Burdett (his site, Wikipedia) was the latest bookclub read (yes, I know I’ve skipped a few in the middle, I got this one out of the library and it’s due back next week, which does concentrate the mind wonderfully). It’s probably not a book many of us would have picked, but all of us enjoyed it, which is rare, and for many of the same reasons.

It’s a detective story set in the prostitution area of Bangkok, with a hero (Sonchai Jitpleecheep) who is the child of a prostitute, a half-caste who doesn’t fit into Bangkok society for a number of reasons. The story itself was a little weird, with some weak spots, but Sonchai is interesting. I’ve only ever spent a few days in Bangkok, and that some time ago, but the author obviously noticed some of the same things I did and incorporated them very naturally into the story. This includes such things as the Thai belief in animism, as well as some cultural expectations that differ between foreigners (farang) and Thai.

There are lots of amusing passages, particularly when Sonchai is talking to and about an American woman who works for the FBI (so he calls her “the FBI”), and when he senses who or what various foreigners were in previous lives, which he generally does not bother to tell them, figuring that they wouldn’t believe him anyway (this is an example of how naturally those aspects are brought in, as in general Westerners don’t believe that you can look at a person and tell what they were in a previous life).

Overall it’s a good read and, if you have some familiarity with Thai animism and have heard of yaa baa, it isn’t too hard to understand what’s going on. Having visited Bangkok helps, but isn’t a prerequisite (fortunately).

  One Response to “Bangkok 8”

  1. I read this at the recommendation of Scott Leslie– in fact he might have given it to me. I enjoyed the detective’s matter-of-fact perspective on a spirit world, previous lives, etc. I plan to read the other Sonchai novels sometime soon!

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