Not so long ago, I received a mail from one of thai-blogs’ regular readers – Mr Andrew, concerning a blog/article I had written up about the one-and-only Thai Soap Opera. I spotted the name I realized that the guy was Andrew Hicks himself, the author of the best-selling novel – ‘Thai Girl’.
Soon after, Andrew wrote me a mail and said that he was off to post through a copy of his book. At first I was rather apprehensive as, what with the title of the book, I automatically preconceived it to be just another book about a Thai bar-girl. “A typically boring tale re-told in a market already saturated by such glorification.”
A couple of chapters however, into the book, I soon gathered that my preconceptions were completely misguided and thought “Now, this is novel truly worth reading”
Even though I found some parts of the book rather ‘unbelievable’ – that is not really the point. Andrew Hicks, with his 40 years experience in The Land of Smiles, affords the reader a topsy-turvy, back-seated roller coaster adventure into the dreaded Bangkok traffic jam; motorbike-taxi rides; Khao Sarn Road; fixed Thai boxing bouts; rangy go-go dancers; edible Isarn insects and rural life in the sticks. Most though, he manages to delve into the psyche of the average young village Thai girl, her Isarn culture and all the predicaments of cross-culture relationships and misunderstandings between her and the Western mentality.
First and foremost, the thing I liked most about this novel was that it was completely devoid of the usual hanky-panky, raunchy dribble which is found in most romantic novels set in Thailand. Andrew instead, doesn’t waste his space with intimate bedroom secrets but writes, with passion, the real goings-on of – Thailand.
The novel starts off with Ben and Emma a couple of typically naïve, young freshie backpacking graduates from England, tripping across to Thailand for their first Asian adventure. Just from the first few pages, the reader already knows their relationship is in severe jeopardy after Ben manages to coax Emma into a vacation, which she doesn’t want. At first, Ben reads like a spunky young sex-tourist wanna-be, who is just waiting for the opportunity to take a dive into the seedy-sultry sinful night-life. It turns out later however that he is, in stark contrast – a humanitarian out on a mormon-like mission, to rescue the poverty-ridden pitiful Thai girl from a life of suffering in a materialistic world.
After arriving and fighting in Bangkok, the young couple soon head for the island of Koh Samet. Ben with his head in heaven is applauding the Thais, but for Emma she is consistently bickering about all things Siamese and comparing ever fault to the perfection of mighty wonderful England. The reader will almost breathe a huge sigh of relief when the author writes Emma off – and she goes flouncing off in her own direction leaving Ben in a pool of remorse.
“He (Ben) sat and read a novel
about Thailand, ‘The Beach’ by
Alex Garland, hoping to learn
something about the country from
it. But it told him nothing.”
The novel really takes off when Ben meets Fon. Just simply a masseuse girl on a Koh Samet beach, she unintentionally sweeps Ben off his feet with her stories of the reality of rural life and the responsibilities and hardships involved. Quite obviously, Ben falls in puppy-love with the exoticness of a rural Thai girl. Naïve as he is, he continually compares her financial status, to that which is the norm back – in the green-green grass of home.
Throughout the book, I never really accepted Ben to be much of a ‘nice-guy’. He is too muddled-up and immature in the head to realize that any kind of relationship he should desire, would be only a chemical one, a one-night-stand leading to a near- future of tears – for the Thai girl. Falling in love with Fon, the first Thai girl he gets to befriend, he is head-over-heels in love with her beauty, charm and perhaps most importantly – her frankness. Ben may claim to Fon that he is a moral man of genetic wisdom, but the reader may feel instead that he is a youngster bloated with libido, just fantasizing about having it off with an Eastern exotic. Then, while he is promising the world to Fon, he is still secretly contacting Emma – planning to meet her, and even missing her. Ben reads like a bit of hypocrite.
I may not have loved Ben’s character, but he does have his positives and he is lovable. He also has quite a bitta sense too, he begins to see through the poverty and realize that the Thai smile, truly is quite a happy one – and that perhaps those down-and-out weather-beaten colored upcountry Thais are more content at heart than the average wealthy Kensington stock-trader.
While Ben pleads his love, fantasizing about her body – Fon is having absolutely nothing to do with such sudden Western intimacies. She continually resists all his advances and lets him know that she is just not a cheap lady-of-the-night, she is a traditional Thai girl. There, Andrew Hicks really manages to give the reader a great insight into the mentality of the traditional Thai girl and how she tries to explain the differences in culture and attitude to the naïve European.
We never really know whether Fon actually falls in love for Ben too, but she does have her feelings. She is smart. She knows about the way foreigners talk and talk and promise and promise to their newly-met Thai darlings about rescuing them from Asian poverty and carrying them off the beauty of the Western world.
Perhaps my fave part of the book is when Fon takes Ben to her home in Buriram province. This is when the author, with his experience of Isarn, manages to afford the reader a delightfully giddy adventure into the realities of everyday north-eastern life. Written well, you can almost hear for yourself the clackety-clack of the morning chickens, the quack-quack of the village ducks and the cries of the tokay-gecko. It is there that Ben witnesses for himself the true qualities of Thai village life.
The book also allows the reader an understanding of the social stigma facing Thai girls and any closeness with the white guy. Fon constantly tries to explain to Ben that many others will see her as prostitute – if the couple appear too close, outside of marriage. Again, Ben with his Western conditioning, never really accepts this and you can almost feel him whisper “So what, why care!”
Anyway, I guess that’s all I’ll say. If you want more details on this really decent novel, then check out Andrew’s website at:
Visit Steve’s main page at Steve’s Weblog