Fiction Tie – A Review
Fiction Thai is a fresh new approach to traditional Thai literature. Author Christina Simmons has combined her years of teaching creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her love of Thai literature to produce a completely original work of fiction in the Thai language. This is fiction Thai in the true sense of the word – one that explores the lives of real people instead of stories set primarily within the bounds of Thai language and culture. In addition, the book also covers some non-Thai subjects, bringing it more in line with the norms of modern-day Thailand.
Set in Bangkok in the early 1990s, the story follows the lives of two cousins, Jorien and Thanon. They are part of a bustling middle-class family of six. As kids, Thanon and Jorien were always interested in exploring new places, especially those within the borders of Thailand. When their maternal grandmother begins a sickly spell, they are taken off to study in Thailand. During this time, Thanon develops an intense interest in religion, particularly Buddhism.
But as he leaves home, Thanon finds himself falling in love with an American woman who has the same interest in Buddhism. The woman’s family is originally from Laos. And while Thanon longs to join them in America, his heart keeps telling him that he should stick with his original love: a woman from Laos. So he travels to Bangkok, which is where the story begins.
The novel spans several years and four chapters. At the start, we meet Jorien, a smart, compassionate Buddhist whose initial fascination with America comes from a reading of Buddhist texts. His eagerness to return to Bangkok also harkens back to his childhood fascination with America. His mother urges him to relocate, but he refuses, preferring to spend time studying with his cousins. As it happens, however, Thanon, a Buddhist, has recently come to Bangkok and becomes close to Jorien and his cousins.
Their initial experiences combine into an intriguing tale of forbidden love, family strife, friendship, and adventure. Thanon, in addition to being a loner, is also a bit obsessive-compulsive. When a girl he was in love with leaves to marry an American, he curses his own family, then curses the groom, who happens to be from Laos. Jorien is so devoted to fulfilling his familial duty that he forces Thanon to help him leave Bangkok to study.
Once back in the United States, Thanon’s family sends him away to serve in the military. Then he returns to Bangkok, determined to find love again. His cousin’s husband, meanwhile, harbors an affair with his secretary. These events set the stage for much of the book’s content, including the character’s transformation from an egotistical ego to a romantic egotist.
The story is accompanied by music interspersed with martial-art combat and explosions. The fighting scenes are brutal and gruesome. In one scene, a napkin accidentally hits Thanon in the face, knocking him unconscious. Fortunately, he recovers soon enough and continues the story in a dreamlike fashion.
The author does a nice job of setting up the various Thai characters and explaining how each influences the others, but the actual plot is rather thin. It’s unfortunate, because the true strength of the story comes when the author brings it to a close. In the end, there is a satisfying payoff, but it doesn’t happen until the reader has felt the impact of Thanon’s misfortunes for a long time.
Story is a bit thin at times and seems to jump to unrealistic conclusions at other points. However, the majority of the book is excellent. The characters are well developed, and there is plenty of conflict and struggle. The fighting scenes are realistic and entertaining. The author uses some typical Thai language, and the way they are spoken by the characters adds a touch of realism to the story. I did have a few typos in the book, but that’s not a big deal.
The author makes some interesting political and ethical questions about war, but they are not explored too deeply. But the questions are not irrelevant or unimportant. They are important enough to warrant the story being revised slightly. Overall, this is an enjoyable, engrossing read. Recommended for anyone who likes historical fiction with an edge.
I liked this book. It was written in a clear and easy-to-follow manner, and the writing style flows as easily as the story does. For someone looking for a fun, exciting, accurate and culturally rich novel, this is a good pick.