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Travelfish Reading Room: please read this first! Sticky!

Posted by somtam2000 on 3/7/2009 at 07:33

So it seems new branches are growing on the forum like mushrooms in the wet season. The Travelfish Reading Room is a forum for suggestions and asking after good books to read on your travels -- after all there's no better way to kill a few hours at the bus station than with a good book -- especially if it isn't the one that told you the bus was supposed to leave three hours earlier ;-) I've moved across a few of the other book-related threads from other parts of the messageboard, but they' ...

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Book Review: Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

Posted by somtam2000 on 23/8/2016 at 00:34

Memoirs of expatriates aren’t our favourite genre when it comes to Southeast Asian reading, but Carol Hollinger’s Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind is the best of its kind to come out of Thailand. A quick and easy read, it nevertheless delves deep into the psyche of a nation that really hasn’t changed all that much since it was written back in the 1960s (the psyche, not the nation). This is an easy introduction to the kingdom that travellers could devour it in a sitting on their flight here (pr ...

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Book Review: The Quiet American

Posted by somtam2000 on 15/8/2016 at 02:40

The Quiet American by Graham Greene is a classic not just about Vietnam — it portrays the nation at a crucial and intriguing juncture in its history — but about American foreign policy, and folly, as well. The multi-layered, sparsely written novel set in the early 1950s remains a searing critique of the US meddling in the internal affairs of a nation and people it knows nothing about. Like Norman Lewis’ travel memoir Dragon Apparent, Greene eschews sentimentalisation, for the most part, a ...

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Book Review: In the Time of Madness

Posted by somtam2000 on 8/8/2016 at 04:33

In the Time of Madness is arguably the most compelling book written about Indonesia in the late 20th century. British correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry brings the roiling turmoil of the era to life with his snappy but sensitive reportage. The action begins in Kalimantan in 1997, where he covers vicious fighting between the indigenous Dayaks and migrant Madurese (yes, decapitated heads feature) that erupted as Suharto's grip on power in Jakarta wavered. Thousands are estimated to have died in ...

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Book Review: Hot Sour Salty Sweet - a culinary journey through southeast asia

Posted by SoManyMiles on 2/8/2016 at 09:18

Hot Sour Salty Sweet combines cookbook with travelogue and when it was published in 2000, it became an instant classic, the definitive introduction to foods of Southeast Asia, the go-to for recipes. Though now somewhat dated and not as flashy or glossy as today's cookbooks, it's withstood the test of time and it is a pleasure to leaf through the pages, be inspired, sigh and drool. It covers the Mekong region - China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma. Some recipes are easy-peasy if you can get t ...

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Book Review: Dragon Apparent

Posted by somtam2000 on 2/8/2016 at 02:20

Dragon Apparent, first published in 1951, is Norman Lewis' account of his travels across French-controlled Indochina in the decades leading up to the American War. Lewis ambles rather nonchalantly around parts of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, catching rides on boats, buses and in cars even as the French fight the nationalist Viet Minh in low-key guerrilla warfare. While, as is to be expected, aspects of the book haven’t aged so well — we begin with the cliched descent by plane into a foreign ...

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Book Review: Sarong Party Girls

Posted by somtam2000 on 23/7/2016 at 17:34

A beach read with a difference, Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is light and breezy but at its core is a subversive message about Singaporean society and the place women have in it. While we were immediately smitten with the snappy Singlish Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan writes in, lah, we weren’t so keen on what at first seems like a vacuous storyline: The protagonist Jazeline (Jazzy) and her posse of pals — think Singaporean Sex and the City, not Emma or Breakfast at Tiffany’s as the publi ...

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Book Review: Fishing for Tigers

Posted by somtam2000 on 18/7/2016 at 19:24

Fishing for Tigers by Australian author Emily Maguire is the tale of an American woman, Mischa, who moves to Hanoi after leaving an abusive relationship back home and remakes her life, working as an editor. As Mischa starts an affair with the 18-year-old Vietnamese-American son of a friend, Maguire probes the expat scene in the Vietnamese capital, describing an array of characters who ring true as well as the city itself. The affair is a confronting part of the story, but it is assuredly han ...

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Book Review: The Year of Living Dangerously

Posted by somtam2000 on 11/7/2016 at 07:42

Yes, the shadow puppet as a metaphor for Indonesia’s (or at least Java’s) political system has been done to death, but Christopher J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously is perhaps the book that polishes it off best, even if unironically. The 1978-released novel — which hasn’t always aged so well when it comes to stereotyping — focuses on the political turmoil that engulfed the young nation in the 1960s, through a Westerner’s eye. Award-winning Australian novelist Koch writes a ...

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Book Review: The Beach

Posted by somtam2000 on 5/7/2016 at 04:15

Set to be re-released by Penguin on July 7 to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of its publishing, The Beach by Alex Garland was hailed as being the quintessential Southeast Asian backpacking novel. Garland used novels Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness as well as various Vietnam war movies as inspiration for his novel, which sees protagonist Richard search for that most mythical of all things travel: a perfect, pristine beach, known to next to nobody. Richard is left a hand-drawn map to t ...

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Book Review: River of Time

Posted by somtam2000 on 27/6/2016 at 01:58

River of Time is British reporter Jon Swain’s memoir of his time in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s — the titular river refers to Indochina’s Mekong. Swain covers the period when the US began to pull out of Vietnam as the American War drew down and he is the only British journalist working in Phnom Penh as the city falls to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Interpreter Dith Pran saved the lives of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and Swain, who hole up in the French Embassy; be sure to ...

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Book Review: The Gate

Posted by somtam2000 on 21/6/2016 at 19:42

At once horrifying and intelligent, The Gate is an extraordinary personal account of the workings of the Khmer Rouge. Frenchman Francoise Bizot was the only Western prisoner to survive capture by their forces; the book is his must-read memoir of his Cambodian ordeal, and his later experience of the fall of Phnom Penh at the genocidal regime's hands. In 1971, as the Khmer Rouge was gathering forces, Bizot was accused of being a CIA agent and held for three months at M-13, a jungle prison run b ...

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Book Review: The Sympathizer

Posted by somtam2000 on 14/6/2016 at 15:38

Another American War in Vietnam novel? Really? We admit to thinking this on hearing about The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, but given it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction earlier this year (and being suckers for literary prizes), we had to give it a read. And: wow. What a refreshing, shocking, beautiful, thought-provoking read. The book takes the form of the protagonist, the son of a Vietnamese woman and French priest, writing his confession to his Communist bosses in the days after the wa ...

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Book Review: A House in Bali

Posted by somtam2000 on 7/6/2016 at 01:45

Published in 1947, A House in Bali by Colin McPhee remains today a relevant and engaging book for readers looking to learn about the intricacies and history of Balinese culture generally, and music specifically. But aside from the riches of information that spill from the book’s pages — and even if you have little interest in music — the story of McPhee’s journey as a musician and composer learning about Balinese gamelan is simply, if perhaps unexpectedly, a page-turner. The story goes ...

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Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists

Posted by somtam2000 on 30/5/2016 at 02:40

This haunting, quiet novel peels back life in Malaya and Malaysia in a beautiful, serious way. Pressed on by a memory-degenerative disease, a just-retired judge, Yun Ling Teo, starts to write a memoir of her life in the Cameron Highlands in the 1950s, after she was released as a Japanese prisoner of war. Her sister, a Japanese garden enthusiast, died while they were prisoners. Yun Ling travels back then to meet with a former gardener of the Japanese emperor, Aritomo, to see if he will help build ...

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Book Review: Sightseeing

Posted by somtam2000 on 23/5/2016 at 01:03

I love reading about a place that I am travelling through, and all-the-better if the book makes me squirm with horrible recognition: This is how we count the days. June: the Germans come to the islands — football cleats, big T-shirts, thick tongues — speaking like spitting. July: the Italians, the French, the British, the Americans. The Italians like pad thai, its affinity with spaghetti. They like fabrics, sun glasses, leather sandals. The French like plump girls, rambutans, disco music, b ...

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Book Review: This Earth of Mankind

Posted by somtam2000 on 17/5/2016 at 21:30

This Earth of Mankind is the first of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet series. Like Burmese Days, this was another Southeast Asian classic we feared was going to be dry but turned out to be a compelling, fascinating read — and that’s even before considering the circumstances in which Toer wrote the book, and its eventual reception on publication. We should really get over our fear of classics. This ambitious novel is an unblinking examination of colonialism, racism and sexism, woven ...

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Book Review: Destination Saigon

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/5/2016 at 03:40

Destination Saigon is part memoir, part reportage, a collection of intimate and often very funny stories by Walter Mason about his exploration of spirituality across Buddhist-majority Vietnam. As he notes himself, so many books in English on Vietnam are focused on the French colonial era and the American war. 2010-published Destination Saigon aims to show readers what Vietnam is like today, in the 21st century. A series of carefully painted vignettes of Mason’s adventures there traverse the ci ...

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Book Review: Bangkok Found by Alex Kerr

Posted by somtam2000 on 1/5/2016 at 22:49

Bangkok Found by Alex Kerr pierces deeply into the art, culture and people of Thailand in a book that reads more like an inspiring travel narrative than a stuffy research project. Countless cultural intricacies will surface if you read this before a trip to Bangkok. As an American scholar of Japanese arts, Kerr learned Japanese fluently and wrote the acclaimed book, Lost Japan, before taking up a residency in Thailand during the middle of his life. In Bangkok Found, his comparisons with Japanes ...

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Book Review: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Posted by somtam2000 on 24/4/2016 at 22:55

It’s not focused on Southeast Asia — Indonesia gets the briefest of mentions — but if you’re a surfer (as so many travellers to this region are), you love a surfer (ditto), or you’re just intrigued by the culture (double ditto), Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life is for you. William Finnegan’s book is a quiet, meditative autobiography of, well, his surfing life. He covers his childhood in California and Hawaii, where he was introduced to surfing and all the intricacies of its nascent cu ...

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