Book Reviews

by Andrew Hicks

Monsoon Books, Ltd. Pte., 296 pages, 2011. https://amazon.com

I was in graduate school here in Bangkok one fine day a decade ago. We had a special guest lecturer, a Thai man educated in England most of his life, then lived overseas after. His speech (or lamentation) was all on how Thais should be more like “foreigners” (read: westerners). Thais were inefficient, not well organised, always running late, the list of faults went on. I should have said then “Thais have developed their society over several millennium to deal with problems as they see them to make the society work as a whole. In my mind the way Thai society operates is what makes it charming, even exotic”.

Andrew Hicks has written a charming personal take on his experience with Thai society. He was written a very accurately observed, insightfully astute effort on interacting closely with Thais. He is most perceptive on his take of the ups and downs in living in the LOS. A most enjoyable read.

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New book unveils the mystery behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq

BOOK LAUNCH WILL BE AT THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS CLUB OF THAILAND (FCCT) AT 18:00-21:00, MONDAY, 13 DECEMBER 2021

PENTHOUSE FLOOR, MANEEYA BLDG., 518/5 PLOENCHIT ROAD, LUMPINI

AT THE CHIT LOM BTS STATION

   Contact the FCCT 02-652-0580, ext. 13 or [email protected] for more details

Web site: www.fccthai.com

Prolific author Dr. Leonard H. Le Blanc III brings forth another revealing read that many would never have thought happened or that it’s still even on-going. With an honest and an unrelenting mission to expose a glimmer of truth, “The Perfect U.S. “Deep State” Operation” reveals the real reason the U.S. invaded Iraq during Gulf War II.

It is the largest theft in American history. It is the largest cover-up in American history. It is the biggest scandal and cover-up in U.S. Marine Corps history, the assassination of a stalwart Colonel who investigated the titanic thievery. It is the largest group of Americans to simultaneously betray their country since at least the U.S. Civil War. It is also the biggest unsolved mystery in U.S. history: Why did the U.S. invade Iraq during Gulf War II? It is the greatest example of a perfect U.S. “Deep State” operation that is still on-going.

This book is available online and for purchase at the FCCT, WRITERS REPUBLIC and Amazon

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Three Elephants Publications, 2011, 288 pages. www,amazon.com

Having been in the U.S. military, one thing I (and probably every other military person) do when watching a movie is to see if the film producers got it all ‘correct’ on the screen. That means are the ribbons on the uniform in the right order, are they using the right equipment for the scene and the year being portrayed, is the always colorful military jargon being spoken accurately, regardless of what the plot is – did they get it all ‘right’? (Nothing is more irritating to see if they did not).

Stephen Leather gets it ‘right’ in ‘Bangkok Bob and the missing mormon’. Our protagonist, an ex New Orleans policeman named Bob Turtledove, gets deeply immersed in a simple missing person case. But he also quickly finds is the usual Bangkok situation that all private detectives here constantly face: Russian mafia types, contract assassins, kickboxing thugs and other lowlife, nasty ‘farangs’ bent on his early demise. A real rollercoaster ride of great entertainment. For hardcore Bangkok murder mystery buffs. Five stars plus.

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Metta Visions, 2010, 156 pages. www.amazon.com

Underneath all the glittering temples, dazzling beaches, shop-‘til-you-drop mega-malls, friendly smiles of the locals who rolled-the-red-carpet-out for you, and always over-the-top entertainment here is a gritty, shadowy and hard-as-nails night life revolving around Bangkok’s pool scene (table not water).

Bangkok pool blues’ is a deep dive into this rarely seen colourful world (once you get inside the pool halls) of domestic and foreign pool hustlers, amateur and international green baize table players and those who follow them both gambling for stakes. It is a real insider’s look-behind-the-scenes view of Bangkok’s vibrant night culture including entertainment and gambling. As Bangkok gains in stature as a must-visit venue for international globetrotters, it has attracted all manner of players (in every sense of the word). The book is gripping in its detail of the interplay of all the participants in a well written, riveting series of vignettes. Doused with expert shots by Yoon Ki Kim, a noted Korean photographer based in Bangkok, it is a fascinating look at Thailand’s counter culture. For very hardcore pool players. Five stars.

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Book review ‘Leaving Thailand’ by Steve Rosse

When we were thirty three years old, both Steve Rosse and myself were planning a visit to Thailand, to stay there for an extended period of time. We both had close relatives who were sick and we were worried about leaving them. Both of our relatives urged us to leave and follow our dream. We both did. That is how we arrived, and mostly, that’s where our similarities end. 

Steve spent most of his time in Thailand in the south of the country, either on Phuket, or nearby, and lived an eventful and sometimes crazy lifestyle. Which changed him in ways that he perhaps never expected… despite having read the classic novel A Woman of Bangkok, which he cites as one of the reasons he upped and moved to Thailand.

Part way through the book Steve notes that men are more lineal in their way of thinking, whilst a woman’s mind tends to flit about rather more. Steve enjoyed the company of many a lady while in Thailand, for longer or shorter periods of time, and his affinity to the fairer sex, I would say, has resulted in Steves’ way of thinking becoming a little more like that of the ladies that he adores. Not quite as lineal as he imagines a man’s mind to be.

As you read through his pages he takes us on a rollercoaster ride through many of his jobs, experiences, and the colourful people he met along the way. Both male and female. One moment he is a set dresser for an Oliver Stone movie, the next he is a newspaper columnist, the next he is working as a public relations chief for a five star hotel. 

The narrative moves without warning from a smoke filled room with a hack typing his latest story, to hobnobbing with movie stars on a Hollywood size movie set, to welcoming royalty in an elegant hotel property. Or living a romantic dream with the love of his life, on a beach – for five months, ten days.

While the title of the book is Leaving Thailand, most of it is taken up with stories of his life there, or reminiscences of it while he is back in the States. It is an interesting insight into a guy that came to live his life in Thailand at the same time as I did.

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Stu Lloyd is well-known in Thailand and Southeast Asia for his books on the region, and his ability to see the funny side of things in just about everything he comes across. His latest book ‘Tales From the Tiger’s Den’ is something of a departure from his usual style, as he takes time out to focus on other people who have lived in or around Southeast Asia or the Orient. They are businessmen, accidental entrepreneurs, authors, et al … but all have that spirit of adventure that led them to experience a life outside that of their homeland. We learn about the places they lived in, first-hand, from their reminiscences, delving into their best-remembered and most precious memories. It all feels very real. You might find yourself wishing you had had the same sort of experiences. Maybe you still can. 

The respected author of 39 books and many magazine articles, Jerry Hopkins, did something similar with his well-received anthology ‘Romancing the East’. Jerry passed away in Bangkok in his early 80s only three years ago. I think Jerry would have been pleased to read Stu Lloyd’s latest tome.

Tales From the Tiger’s Den sees Stu heading out to chat with the people he writes about, and has come up with an absorbing book that sheds a little light on times gone by, and also gives us an insight into the people who lived in them. A few are still with us, others, sadly, are not. But here they live on. 

The book looks at  twenty-one quite different people, some of whom you may already be familiar with, some not so much, and some not at all. No worries, here you have the tools to let you become a little closer to them all. For myself, I was immediately drawn to travel writer Harold ‘Steve’ Stephens, as I have been familiar with him for over 30 years, since I came to live in Thailand, and I have enjoyed reading many of his magazine or newspaper articles. Harold Stephens passed away in Bangkok, January 2021, at the age of 94. He was born in the USA, but came to the Orient via the armed forces, when the US had joined forces with the Chinese, to oust the invading Japanese. Harold was a true-life ‘action man’ who travelled the world and wrote about the places he had been to and the people he met. But actually, one of his friends, writer James Clavell, once mentioned that a book based around the exploits of ‘Steve’ (as he liked to be called) would probably be more exciting than even his own fiction novels. It would include Steve’s 200,000 mile sailboat trip around the world, studying at a university with Jacqueline Kennedy, driving the length and breadth of Africa, being employed as a ‘travel writer’ in Vietnam during the war, working as an extra on Mutiny on the Bounty, and becoming a drinking buddy of Marlon Brando, and, and, and…

You will enjoy reading about Steve, sure.

Stu does not leave the ladies out of things in Tales From the Tiger’s Den’, how could he. One of the most interesting ladies you will discover as you read is Marie Bohman, and one of her earliest memories is of a mob in India, shouting ‘Break your houses! Cut your throats! Throw you in the river!’ Marie was a young girl and she and her family were being threatened by an angry Hindi mob in the European compound of the Czech-owned Bata shoe company in Mokameh, during the times of independence from British rule, and the partition of India.

Marie, by now a pensioner, was speaking in 2006 to Stu for his interview in Sydney, Australia, in a large well-appointed house, along with her life-long friend Ivan Volenta. The connection between her and Ivan began due to both of their fathers working for Bata, and they have many similar memories of growing up during colonial-era India and its transition to a self-governing independent nation. 

They can remember the first township the company built, Batanagar, and the Eastern European and British kids they played with during the colonial times. The Bata empire went from strength to strength and took over more and more towns, where the local economies grew alongside the size of the factories and their workforce. Much of the childhood of these firm friends was spent living nearby the banks of the holy Ganges river, with freshwater crocodiles, vultures, dolphins, jackals, and snakes …  lots of snakes, Marie recalled. 

The strife and struggles the country and its people suffered during the end of colonial times remains fresh in her memory. She vividly remembers when the father of one of her school-friends was burnt alive, only a few feet away from the safety of his house.

But all was not bad; although she missed her parents while away at boarding school she gained a love of classical music, and her schoolmates included the Nepalese royal family, and a girl who would become the famous British actress Vivien Leigh.

Marie never married, and has never been back to India; Ivan took his son back on a visit to show him his heritage … both their lives are now so different, but even after living in Australia for 45 years, Ivan and Marie still enjoy meeting to talk about their early life.And Marie is writing a book about her experiences. Should be a good read. 

The eclectic mix of people you will meet in Stu Lloyd’s book, and their stories, will give you many delightful  insights into another world. Or maybe one or two of them might even mirror your own. 

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Down & Out Books, 218 pages.  www.amazon.com

Our half-Thai/half-American, ex-U.S. Special Forces, locally based Bangkok hero is right back at it in the third installment of the Matt Chance series, entitled Bangkok Gamble. The first two, Viper’s Tale and Murder in the Slaughterhouse, introduced our man of action to the world with rousing action and totally believable plot lines. Trouble always seems to find our protagonist like street beggars zeroing in on any “farang” along Sukhumvit’s sidewalks.

Again the action never quits. The reader (and Chance) gets thrown right off the deep end into a continual set of turbulent situations and frantic action. This time our reluctant detective/man of mystery/action hero has to battle a crazy monk, get a beautiful daughter of a gambling kingpin back safe and sound from a kidnapping, plus deal with assorted bad guys both here in Bangkok and Macao. Along for the ride with a few CIA types and Special Forces buddies all lending a hand there and there. 

Highly recommended!

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Billington Publishing, 2020, 270 pages  Available on www.amazon.com next month

It is always an authentic thrill to see a new literary genre being launched. Edgar Allen Poe invented detective stories: Jules Verne invented science fiction, and Lady Murasaki invented the novel. Andrew Youngson has added to the world’s unique literary history by launching a brand new sub-genre called “Thai SciFi”!

All novels are autobiographical. Andrew Youngson again proves this adage to be true. The author makes an impressive (the British would say “not bad” in a flat tone of voice) debut in his inaugural novel. The protagonist grabs the reader by the collar and drags them through the tale of horror, mystery and metaphysical surreality in fine style along with heavy doses of Thai culture. The action builds slowly as the reader sinks into the saga, like walking on a Bangkok pavement made of concrete mixed with seawater. It slowly crumbles beneath your feet as you get a queasy sinking feeling that will not end well.  The final verdict?  Master of the new genre.  Cult following.  Netflix movie.

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Today we are speaking to Tom Crowley, long time Bangkok resident, noted author of numerous Thailand based books and humanitarian worker. 

www.tomcrowleybooks.com

What brought you to Thailand the first time?

Business and investment management. In the mid nineties my company asked me to open an investment office for SE Asia. It came down to Bangkok or Manila. An obvious choice even today. However, it was only after I left the pressure and rat race of the business world in 1998 that I really arrived in Thailand.

What has changed the most in Thailand?

All credit to the urban planners and Thai government for the establishment of an extensive modern rail system. The MRT and BTS systems have brought about a tremendous and beneficial change in Bangkok. Its impact cannot be overstated. Transportation has eased and people, especially working class people, can move around much much more easily.

The amount of real estate investment and chic, in some places, urban growth in Bangkok has been amazing. Bangkok has some of the most modern high rise buildings in the world. The road system has expanded tremendously though at times in a bit of a confusing manner.

Growth in the countryside, roads, schools, and markets has also expanded though not matching Bangkok in any way.

What has changed the least here?

Things must still be done the ‘Thai’ way. One must be non-confrontational. Thailand is still captive to the Pee-Nong system it was ruled in the past by a gerontocracy and still is. Social innovation still lags in all areas. Your first novel Vipers Tail was about a deadly virus that emerged in China and spread across the world. This is amazingly prescient. Please tell us about the novel. My goal was really to introduce a new hero, a Thai American, whose military background and post war issues I could understand and develop fully.

Of course the protagonist always needs an antagonist, the more evil and threatening the better. My military history reading, which included WWII and the Japanese attempt to conquer Asia, had brought me to focus on the Kempeitai, the Japanese political military police. In that research I came across records of their death camps and the research and testing of biological agents. They actually released biological agents against civilian Chinese populations during the war.

Here was evidence of overwhelming evil. I reimagined a version of that in a current setting and set my hero on the trail. I must give credit for the boost to my imagination to the continuing stream of viral infections that China has shared with the rest of Asia during my time here. That list includes SARS, swine flu, avian flu, H1N1 and of course today, well after my book, the Corona virus. Chinese health practices can be deemed somewhat suspect.

You have done a number of fiction books about Thailand. Tell us about your main protagonist, Matt Chance, and where the idea for the character came from?

I have a good number of friends who are combat veterans. When they read my books they say to me, “There is a lot of you in there.” Yes, there is a lot of all the combat veterans and PTSD survivors in Matt. The fires that rage within him at times, the determination to overcome the past and put it behind him, and the identification with the underdogs he comes across in life are all part of the man. Yet, as always, he is Thai,  Thai-American, Luk Krung with an American father and a Thai mother, educated in America, but Thai. Bridging the two worlds.

The American military survivor part is mine. The Thai part is based on my good fortune in making some very strong Thai friends, especially in my work at the Mercy Centre, people who are friends to this day. In particular, as several of them were educated in the US and the UK, they provided a window into the nature of their life struggle to preserve their Thai cultural core but at the same time utilise the best of the world view that they had come to in their education.

What books are you working on now?

After my time in business, I spent fourteen years, 1998 to 2012, working as a full time volunteer with a home for street kids based in the port slum area of Klong Toey, the Mercy Centre. I decided to write the story of the Heroes of Mercy. These are the staff and children of the poorest of families, who struggle with the tremendous difficulties involved in fighting to overcome strong Thai social prejudice and educational and economic barriers and to maintain their human dignity. Their stories are amazing and humbling. I will do my best to bring them to the world.

How has Thailand changed you?

My time in Thailand has helped me to learn how to keep my mouth shut, at least on occasion, and listen to the other person. Working at Mercy I learned not to judge quickly as the Thai would often keep things from the older person (me) being Kreng Jai. They didn’t want to upset me or any elder (or boss). Take time to understand what is going on around you. Much of it may be hidden. This period of waiting to understand fully seems very difficult to Western newcomers who often want to get to the heart of the matter, very quickly. I hope I talk less and listen more. The staff at the Mercy home are so professional and yet so humble. If I could learn to be like them. . .  

What are your favourite things to do here?

Thailand has a wonderful collection of jungle parks and forest reserves which are little appreciated within Thailand, especially by the government. I would say some of these national parks, Keng Krachan in particular, are the best preserved bits of nature in Asia. I  was a graduate of the US Army Jungle Expert school during my service and my wife and I love walking jungle trials and observing the birds and wildlife. I would put my time in these parks at the top of my list of the special activities available in Thailand.  These parks provide a striking counterpoint to the urban jungle of Bangkok.

On a more pedestrian basis, I rediscovered the pleasure I experienced in my youth competing in the game of pool. Bangkok is the best pool venue in the world. Yes,  the best. There are a great number of choices. Give it a try. My two favourite venues are Hustlers in the Times Square building and the Sportsman on Soi 13. This is where Matt goes to relax and escape the pressures of whatever case he is involved in. It may work for you.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to move to Thailand and live here?

DO: Learn the language, learn the language, learn the language.

I studied the Chinese language, including the characters, and worked in China for years. I studied Korean, including the alphabet, and worked in Korea for years. What I came to understand is that the native use of the language, the special phrases for certain occasions, how elders are referred to, differing references to men and women, and many other things, provide the best window to understanding the people and the culture. A great book along this line is Heart Talk by Chris Moore and his Thai wife.

Language study can be an intense and painful process but do the study early on and maintain it. Don’t pick up the language informally. You’ll end up possibly using words and phrases which define you as not completely educated. I studied at Berlitz, total immersion, and found it a great starting point.

DON’T: Don’t restrict yourself to the colonial village or limit your relations to other colonists as so many expats do. Fine some way to immerse yourself, without colonial bodyguards, at least on occasion, in the Thai people and Thai activities

What does the future hold for you?

Reading and writing. Reading and writing. Reading and writing. I’m considered retired now, to my home in Maryland, just a visitor to Thailand and my friends there once a year, but there are no limits to what I can read and write. I love it and am very lucky to have this core identity to carry me through.

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by Bill Felber

University of Nebraska Press, 2011, 204 pages. www.amazon.com

One of the world’s most famous philosophers, Yogi Berra, once said: ‘It’s ’déjà vu’ all over again.’ This major league baseball season is jammed full of high drama, low antics, a very abbreviated season and multi billionaire owners battling multi millionaire players for a slice of mega trillions in revenues.

But nothing can hold a candle to the 1920 American League pennant race. The story of that season is too good to be fiction. Bill Felber proves that this season really changed major league baseball forever. It also marked the sport’s great popularity. That season Babe Ruth would shatter the single season homerun record, a popular star was killed by an errant beanball, and a corrupt dynasty would come to a shattering end. You couldn’t even make this stuff up. It also allowed an iron-fisted Baseball Commissioner to commandeer baseball for almost a quarter of the century in an effort to clean up the sleaze and corruption. For baseball fanatics. 5 stars.

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