I have to admit, the selection of books on Thai life and culture both in fiction and non-fiction is underwhelming. A quick search on amazon when I accepted my position in Thailand left me more than disappointed. If you’ve been following our journeys this far you may have realized that I like to read about where I’m living to better understand what’s around me.
Compared to the rich and diverse volumes tackling China then and now; China’s development, China’s policy choices, China’s influences and China’s potential, not to mention short stories and novels on Chinese culture by foreign and local authors alike. At this point I’m not sure what to make of the meager offerings on Thai living. I guess I have to take it upon myself to write the next great novel on Bangkok, or look a little harder for some decent writing on this place.
I didn’t come up completely empty handed however, Bangkok 8 by John Burdett is the first of four murder mysteries set in the great city of Bangkok or to local Thai’s “Krung Thep.” It follows the city’s “only honest police detective,” Sonchai Jitpleecheep (yes Thai names get longer than Chinese), as he investigates a murder of a former US marine throughout the many chaotic worlds of farang (or foreign) and local Thailand. As one reviewer writes, Burdett uses “Bangkok as a character itself.” He takes a look at corruption in the police force, transgender acceptance in society, the influence on Buddhism in pretty much everything and the relationship between the United States and Thai governments. Basically this seemingly fluffy murder mystery is chock full of valuable little morsels on Thai society and culture such as:
“[Thai cuisine is] protected by a firewall of chili, our cooking has been immune to the corruption suffered by other great cuisines due to Western influence and the best food can still be found in humble homes and, more especially, on the street. Every Thai is a natural gourmet and cops don’t bust the best food stalls if they know what’s good for them.”
One of the most wonderful things about Burdett’s writing is that his stories are deeply set in the seedy red-light district, which is so prominent in Bangkok’s culture, without letting it override his thorough examination of life in Thailand. CNNgo.com interviewed the British-born author prior to the release of the fourth volume in his series, about his favorite spots in Bangkok and the sources of his inspiration. He admits to favoring those more seedy parts to town, but luckily he doesn’t let it completely take over his subject matter like the majority of an amazon.com search result list on Thailand. Fluffy or not, I look forward to finishing the series and see what else I can take away the adventures of Sonchai and I guess I’ll get started on that novel…