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Category Archive for 'Thailand'

Recognized as one of the most exciting young novelists in Latin America, Santiago Gamboa of Colombia has written a novel which defies easy labeling. Filled with non-stop action and much like a thriller in its ability to generate and maintain suspense, it is also a sociological illustration of crime on a grand scale, a study of political corruption and violence in more than one country, a close look at the interactions of one middle class Colombian family trapped in the complex social milieu of Bogota, the unusual love story of a brother and his nurturing sister who depend on each other for love, and ultimately, a story of innocence and overwhelming guilt, as felt by more than one character. Scenes set in Colombia during the rule of Alvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010) provide insights into that country’s political challenges and the power of its drug trade and are balanced by scenes in Thailand, where the often sadistic interpretation of “justice” bears little relationship to anything most of us have ever known. Ultimately, Gamboa’s wide-ranging plot lines keep the reader moving at a rapid pace, hopping from country to country – from Colombia and Thailand to India, Japan, and Iran, and back.

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The “sensitivity” of Japanese soldiers, their “wisdom in understanding,” and the “higher side of themselves” which they celebrate in the novel were lost on the allied Prisoners of War under their control, and these qualities will be just as lost on readers of this novel as they read about unconscionable examples of gross inhumanity. Set during World War II, when many Australians became POWs after the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese, the novel details the brutality of the conquerors, their starvation of prisoners, their forcing of dying soldiers to work until they collapsed and expired, their murders and tortures, and even their use of conscious prisoners as guinea pigs for Japanese officers who wanted to test their bayonets. The sadism which paralleled the officers’ interest in poetry was cultivated and celebrated among themselves as proof of their dedication to the Emperor, who could do no wrong. Much of the action here takes place during the building of the Siam to Burma Railway, known as the Death Railway, which the Emperor wanted finished immediately so that it could eventually be extended to India. Balanced against these horrors, which Flanagan depicts in grim and uncompromising imagery, is a non-traditional love story, which shows aspects of the Australian society from which most of the soldiers have come and hope to return, and particularly the society of Tasmania, which several main characters call home and where author Richard Flanagan himself grew up and has spent most of his life.

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Whether she is “Walking With the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas,” canoeing the Sundarbans for tigers (Spell of the Tiger: The Man-Eaters of Sundarbans), or, in this case, exploring Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos seeking the golden moon bear, Sy Montgomery single-mindedly seeks out rare animals, refusing to limit her searches to “safe” areas. Facing land-mines in Cambodia, warring tribes on the Thai border with Myanmar (Burma), poachers in Laos, and a poverty-stricken Laotian society in which people eat virtually all insect and animal life, Montgomery attempts to track down a golden bear with Mickey-Mouse-type ears and a black mane, thought to be a variety of moon bear, and unlike any other bear known to science, possibly “the scientific finding of a lifetime.”

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Three young college graduates are looking for Eden in the 1990s, someplace the rest of the world has not discovered, where they can live apart from corrupt “civilization” and enjoy the more “meaningful” aspects of a simple life, independent of the rest of the world. Surviving a long sea swim, conquering the cliffs on an uncharted island, and, more importantly, recognizing a dope farm and avoiding the bloodthirsty gunmen who patrol it, the three eventually make their way onto “The Beach,” the utopian society Daffy has told Richard about, and in which he was a founding member. As they settle in and learn the ropes, the three newcomers experience the mystical, sometimes drug-induced peacefulness they’ve always dreamed of. As in Lord of the Flies and other utopian dreams, the magic lasts only until the first big crisis, and on the beach, several crises occur simultaneously.

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