Posted by: koolwine | June 5, 2011

Thailand: Sightseeing

Seven short stories about Thai natives, tourists and transplants illuminate life in contemporary Thailand.

Country Focus: Thailand (Prathet Thai in Thai; known as Siam until 1939)

Sightseeing: Stories
by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (Thai-American)
published by Grove Press, 2005.  247 pgs.

Acclaim: National Bestseller; winner of the Asian American Literary Award; finalist for the Guardian First Book Award

 

Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Rattawut Lapcharoensap penned Sightseeing when he was only 26 years old.  Not surprisingly, the best stories in this collection feature boys on the cusp of manhood.  In “Farangs,” a hotel owner’s son falls for Lizzie, the latest in a string of American tourists who have broken his heart.  “At the Café Lovely” portrays an eleven-year-old trying to prove himself to his teenage brother.  A young man can’t admit to his best friend that his parents bribed the draft board in “Draft Day.”  A boy overcomes his own and his parents’ prejudices to befriend a refugee girl in “Priscilla the Cambodian.” These punchy, skillfully crafted, well-paced stories deftly tackle complex emotions and situations.  Lapcharoensap writes some of his most pointed lines in “Farangs”:

Ma says, “Pussy and elephants.  That’s all these people want. … You give them history, temples, pagodas, traditional dance, floating markets, seafood curry, tapioca deserts, silk-weaving cooperatives, but all they really want is to ride some hulking gray beast like a bunch of wildmen and to pant over girls and to lie there half-dead getting skin cancer on the beach during the time in between.”

 

 

Advertisements

Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading all of the stories in “Sightseeing” very much. I was interested in each of the stories and I think the good writing was what kept me interested.

    “Farangs” made me aware of the influence of western culture on Thailand. A pig named Clint Eastwood is a grabber.

    I was moved by the bond between the two brothers in “At The Cafe Lovely”. I didn’t have the same bond with my brothers but we did not have a similar situation with an ailing mother.

    “Draft Day” reminded me of the sense of alienation I have felt when someone I knew surprised me with behavior that revealed to me how little I really knew them. A quote that I liked, “The officer spins the urn. I think I can hear the cards fluttering in there like so many birds. Black, black, black, I think. Wichu reaches into the urn, pulls out a card, hands it to the officer. “Red”, the speaker system says, and I can almost see Wichu’s shoulders slump from some invisible weight.”

    I thought the burden of responsibility weighing upon the shoulders of the son in “Sightseeing” as he contemplated the oncoming blindness of his mother and the change to his future was engaging. The scene where his mother barters for the Armani sunglasses was very entertaining. I liked this passage, “I open my eyes this time as I rush to the bottom, kicking hard against the surface. I see soft shafts of sunlight slicing through a thick , bleary haze. Clusters of blue, clusters of yellow, clusters of green disperse all around me, moving as if suspended midair, little pellets of color swimming through a depthless tapestry of light. I hear my feet kicking, my heart beating, the warm water rushing around me. An indistinct sea floor rises up to meet me. I crash into the sand. Perhaps, I think, this is what Ma must feel in the grips of her oncoming blindness. These indistinct visions. These fragmented hues. This weightlessness.”

    The xenophobia expressed in “Priscilla The Cambodian” reminded me that fear is universal. I thought the author portrayed Priscilla and the Cambodians sympathetically, especially in Priscilla’s mother’s forgiveness and Priscilla’s generosity. I was glad to see that.

    “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place” had me laughing at the grumpy old father and then smiling as the family adjusted and accepted him and he them. Throughout all of the stories I felt that the author had a genuine touch for writing about family relationships. That came to the fore in this story, I think.

    “The Cockfighter” had me in its grip from the beginning. I thought it was the best of the stories. The father’s descent into obsessiveness and the harm that caused to the family and then the looming threat of sexual assault to Ladda were suspenseful to me. I can’t speak to the authenticity of Ladda’s character like you can but I felt a palpable fear for Ladda, both from Little Jui and from her father’s slide into compulsive behavior. The family’s reaction to the final tragic event was Buddhist-like and Ladda’s seemed Zen-like.

    I know little about Thailand and this book expanded my knowledge of it somewhat. I didn’t know it was such a popular tourist destination. I have never known anyone that said they had gone to Thailand for vacation. I think the Thai people are the most beautiful people I have seen. Their facial structure and features are so handsome in the men and women. I think Adam and Eve must have been Thai. There is something that seems pristine about their appearance to me.

    It was another very enjoyable read for me. Next for me is “The Hakawati”. Thanks again for your recommendation and your wonderful review and comments. Always interesting.

    Like

    • Although I wasn’t a fan of “Cockfighter”, I did write down this quote that I liked:
      “Papa kept losing with his cocks. He’d bring them home every Sunday evening quivering inside their traveling coops in the Mazda flatbed, beady little eyes wild with chicken-terror, bold brilliant feathers wet with their own blood. Mama and I would pluck the dead ones. We’d blanch them. We’d bleed them for sausages, feed entrails to the strays, and then we’d roast them because after all, as papa would often tell me, a chicken was still a chicken no matter if it’s raised to lay eggs or crow at the sun or fight like a gladiator. I knew it broke papa’s heart to kill those chickens, though. The way he ate his dinner – picking each bone clean, licking his lips and fingers – you’d think he was trying to teach me something about indifference. I, too, tried to make a show of eating, put on my bravest face, for in those days we were nothing if not a family of brave, ridiculous faces.”
      Am happy that you liked it! Good luck with The Hakawati!

      Like

  2. I liked that, too. “…brave, ridiculous faces” says so much.

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: