Sightseeing by Rattawut LapcharoensapRead about another entry on the list.
“Pussy and elephants. That’s all these people want,” says a hotel owner who caters for farangs (Thai slang for foreigners). That sets the tone for an east-west culture clash in the opening tale of this lively debut collection of short stories set in contemporary Thailand. It’s a fresh, provocative take on the country’s beauty and bleakness – without a hint of exoticism.
In the poignant title story, a son and his mother, who is rapidly going blind, go on a trip to see their country as tourists. In Priscilla the Cambodian, a boy learns of the hostility towards migrants. And in the novella-length Cockfighter, a family is almost torn apart by a father’s obsession with betting, bird-fighting and getting even with the town bully.
The first-person narration in each of the seven stories immediately draws the reader in, whether it’s about cultural discord, coming of age and the loss of innocence, small-town corruption or social divisions. The narrators, mostly young Thais, are finding their way in an unequal and irrational adult world.
An acute observer, Rattawut makes a candid and witty tour guide to the darker side of the “land of smiles”. And despite an undercurrent of anger and frustration, he avoids pamphleteering.
Rattawut was born in Chicago and grew up in Bangkok. He lives in New York.