Tag Archives: Thailand

The Road to Wanting, by Wendy Law-Yone

3.5 stars3.5/5

The Road to Wanting opens with an interrupted suicide attempt. Our narrator, Na Ga is alone in a prison-like hotel room on the Chinese-Burmese border contemplating hanging herself, when the young receptionist shouts in panic through the door that another guest (known to Na Ga) has beaten her to it.

The Road to Wanting, by Wendy Law-Yone

Vintage, 2011 paperback edition, 272 pages - gift

What follows is Na Ga’s account of her journey to this point. Beginning in her small home village in rural Rangoon, she is sold into slavery by her parents and later taken in by an American family then abandoned which leads her vulnerable to a sex-trafficking group. While in a refugee camp she is ‘rescued’ by an American named Will who is fascinated by her ethnic background and takes her to Bangkok to live with him. Somehow though, Na Ga cannot find peace and when Will tires of his exotic life in Thailand and Na Ga’s companionship he sends her back on a journey home.

The Road to Wanting isn’t a lighthearted read but the narrative voice is authentic and really pulls you into the story. At times Na Ga is difficult to relate to because although she describes her feelings in detail throughout, she keeps a tough veneer and her tone is detached rather than emotional. You really feel that the narrator is care-worn and that she has built a kind of protective shell around her.

Despite having visited the Indochinese region (though not Burma) I haven’t read many books set there and it was quite enlightening to read about the varied ethnicities within the area and the way that some people have become muddled and displaced because of conflict. There is quite a lot of discussion in the book given over to the way that Na Ga is perceived because of her ethnic minority status as being from the Lu (or ‘Wild Lu’ as referenced in local, disparaging articles with dubious anthropological claims). To Will this ethnic background gives her an exotic status, but she is regarded by others as from a backward tribe, and Na Ga is a quite alien in her outlook but perhaps more because the sum of her experience sets her apart and isolates her.

Na Ga’s experiences in The Road to Wanting are heartbreaking but when I read the story I didn’t feel moved to tears or emotional straight away, although a few hours later I would suddenly feel angry and disgusted by the way that humans can abuse one another under certain circumstances. It certainly isn’t a happy book, but Na Ga does find resolution and peace in herself. This is reflected in the way that the tone of the narrative changes towards the end of the story, with more beautiful descriptions creeping in.

“The moon is quietly slipping away, riding the dark foam of the treetops. And the trees are coming alive… On the slope of a hill where a white pagoda perches, the pennants are up and flying. How they take the breath away, those bright little pennants.”

The Road to Wanting is a poignant and deeply personal book which shows a person affected by events beyond her control, now beginning to find her own path. I believe that other readers will either really love this book and become involved in it or find it difficult to connect with the character. I personally find this a tough book to rate because on one level it wasn’t often an enjoyable read and I felt an emotional distance from the narrator, however this book took me on an unexpected journey, and I know that Na Ga’s experience will stay with me.

Bangkok 8, by John Burdett

4 stars 4/5

Discovering Bangkok 8 is the perfect example of why I love blogging. Without Nomadreader’s recommendation I wouldn’t have come across this book which really was the perfect holiday read for my Thailand trip.

Corgi, 2004 paperback edition, 432 pages - personal library

Bangkok 8 is a detective novel with a whole different flavor, thanks to the unique outlook and philosophy of it’s main character. Half Thai, half farang, and the son of an upwardly-mobile prostitute, Detective Jitpleecheep is the quirkiest detective I’ve come across before. If I were to try to describe his sometimes contradictory and spiritual mentality it would sound almost comedic, and yet Bangkok 8 is a very dark novel with a deeply sincere protagonist.

The detective gets in embroiled in a case involving a well connected American jeweler, an imposing black marine-turned jade carver, a stunning mixed-race femme fatale and a bunch of gun-toting Khmers. He becomes involved when his partner is killed as a by-product of what looks like a revenge-killing. Sound far-fetched? Well Burdett makes believable and pieces the story together in a way that is compelling and entertaining.

My favorite thing about Bangkok 8 is the way that Burdett personifies the city so that it feels like a living, breathing entity. I was impressed at how the atmosphere of Krung Thep (Bangkok) is captured and enjoyed the little details about the city’s development. The Bangkok described, was recognisable to me, but I also started to notice things that I hadn’t before as I looked at this extraordinary metropolis with a different perspective. I wouldn’t want to assume everything Burdett writes is a perfect representation of the city or of the Thai way of life but he certainly seems to have something of a love-affair with Bangkok which is demonstrated through the intimate details he describes.

Bangkok 8 is a smart thriller, which explores complex ideas about the sex industry and Thai society without getting too heavy. A great escape from normality, with an oddly charming central character. I’ll leave you with this snippet where Detective Jitleecheep ponders what it means to face death to give you a taste of his unique philosophy:

“We do not look on death the way you do, farang. My closest colleagues grasp my arm and one or two embrace me. No-one says sorry. Would you be sorry about a sunset? No-one doubts that I have sworn to avenge Pichai’s death. There are limits to Buddhism when honour is at stake.”

Sunny Snaps from Thailand

With it being Monday, and the outlook looking cooler this week in the UK (it seems we’ve all been lead to believe we suddenly live in a Mediterranean country!), I thought I’d share a few sunny snaps from my recent holiday to Thailand. I thought my pictures from buzzing Bangkok and Koh Samui would brighten things up at Novel Insights.

On returning to the Grand Palace for the second time, I’d forgotten how stunning it is. Apart from all the glitzy gold, I loved the intricate details and fine craftsmanship.

Gold stupa at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

I loved the beautiful mosaics in a myriad of styles and designs:

Mosaic tiles at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Mosaic tiles at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Mosaic tiles at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

As a lover of stories, I was intrigued by the paintings on the wall which seemed to tell of war, pillage, beautiful women muses and fantastic monsters. A bit of Googling suggest that they are scenes from the Ramayana:

Paintings at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Of course, in Bangkok two of the best things to do are shop

MBK, Bangkok

…(I heart MBK shopping centre!), and eat…

Yummy tom yum soup

Sweet sticky-rice with mango and coconut milk

Nutty, caramel ice cream sundae pig-out!

Of course I checked out the bookish haunts. Our hotel in Koh Samui was really wonderful, but if I ever go back with lots of dosh, the hotel I would love to stay in is The Library – a chic hotel with a bookish theme:

Pool at The Library, Koh Samui

I had to check out the bookshop in the MBK shopping centre too. Looks like there are plenty of avid readers in Bangkok:

Unusually for me, I only read two books the whole holiday:

The Road to Wanting

The Road to Wanting, by Wendy Law-Yone

Bangkok 8

Bangkok 8, by John Burdett

We went to two stunning bars – Skybar at the Lebua State Tower and my favourite of the two Vertigo, at the Banyan Tree where we spent our last evening. To really show off how amazing the Bangkok metropolis looks at night, here are a couple of pictures that my lovely photographer boyfriend took of the view:

Bangkok at night - view from Vertigo Bar, Banyan Tree

Bangkok at night - view from Vertigo Bar, Banyan Tree

Thailand has got culture, delicious cuisine, sensational shopping, beautiful beaches and a wonderful vibe. Though you can’t ignore that it has a seedy side, all of these things add up to a place licentious yet traditional, and ultimately pretty amazing!

Recommendations for Thai books / books set in Thailand?

Thai Tuk Tuk

Image from teothai.com

In two weeks, I’m off to Thailand for a holiday (Bangkok and Koh Samui). It’s a beautiful place which I find fascinating because it has a liberal culture and a fantastically modern capital, and yet it’s still very traditional in many ways!

Yet, despite visiting three times previously I have oddly never read a novel set there, or written by a Thai author – something that I would like to change.

I quite fancy one novel that’s a little bit epic that I can read on the beach and maybe something shorter. I’d like to learn something but not feel lectured.

Can anyone recommend anything?

Back from holiday!

I’m back from my holiday, feeling rested and happy, if slightly pink around the nose from making the most of the sunshine on my last day.

What a wonderful couple of weeks. My boyfriend and I stayed first in Columbo, Sri Lanka where my friend was getting married at the beautiful Galle Face hotel, right on the sea front. It’s a colonial-style building which I can just imagine being the setting for an Agatha Christie mystery. Sitting on the veranda, looking past swaying palm trees to the shimmering sea, I enjoyed sipping a gin and tonic or a king coconut and crunching on hot, salted cashew nuts. When the wind picks up and the sea becomes stormy, the atmosphere is a little spooky, like something Daphne DuMaurier would pen a story about.

Galle Face Hotel

And of course, being a bookaholic, I checked the hotel’s ‘Distinguished Overseas Visitors’ list for authors and noticed a couple of literary types – Edward Lear and George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion is one of my favourite plays!).

I also visited the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnewela for the second time. When I went to Sri Lanka a couple of years back it was one of my favourite experiences. I missed out a bit this time as I was feeling a slightly unwell, but still had a fab view of the elephants washing themselves and playing in the river. It never ceases to amaze me how sociable these animals are and how tender they are with the little elephants.

Elephant orphanage Pinnewela, Sri Lanka

Elephant orphanage Pinnewela, Sri Lanka

On our last evening I took a walk with my boyfriend along the promenade outside the hotel where people were flying colourful kites, eating from the food stalls and school kids were chasing waves.

Galle Face Promenade

Beach outside Galle Face

The perfect setting for an elegant wedding and an exotic break away from the day to day of London life.

Our second week was spent in Phuket, Thailand. We mostly enjoying eating, lolling around at our hotel, running out to the beach in between tropical rain showers and I caught up on my reading!

Alan walking on the beach at Phuket, Thailand

View of the sea, Phuket, Thailand.

Coconut, squid and red curry, Phuket, Thailand.

Ah… back to the real world!

I’ll be posting reviews of my holiday reads, once I get settled back into the swing of the things. In the meantime, anyone want to hazard a guess at how many books I finished reading on my trip?

On holiday!

After lots of fussing, putting things in and taking things out of my suitcase (and ending up with what I suspect may be too many books), I am finally ready to set off for my holiday. I will spend the first week in Columbo, Sri Lanka for a friend’s wedding and then I’ll be hitting the beach for the second week in Phuket, Thailand.

Palm trees galore – yippee!

A picture from our last visit to Sri Lanka, taken by the lovely boyfriend.

It’ll be a bit quiet here at Novel Insights for a couple of weeks, but I’ll be back with reviews of all my holiday reads and probably a picture or three.

See you then! x