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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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Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Posted by somtam2000 on 19/2/2017 at 22:20

Crazy Rich Asians is a rollicking read set in the lives of Singapore’s ultra-rich. One of the key families in the story, in fact, is so rich and so privacy obsessed that their mega-estate next to the Botanical Gardens and owned for generations isn’t shown on Google Maps or GPS; some of their members pay off the press in order never to be featured, so their existence is a complete mystery to many. Our entree into their world is by way of Rachel Chu, a mainland Chinese-born economics professo ...

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Book Review: My Life As a Fake by Peter Carey

Posted by somtam2000 on 13/2/2017 at 01:27

Published in 2004 and set mostly in Kuala Lumpur in 1972, My Life As a Fake, by Australian Booker-prize winning author Peter Carey, is at its heart the tale of an Australian literary hoax and its reverberations into the present. As apparently unlikely a story as it is intriguing, the narrator Sarah Wode-Douglass, who is the editor of a financially failing London poetry journal, is enticed to the Malaysian capital by a poet and family friend. Once there, she stumbles upon a poverty-stricken ...

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Book Review: If I Could Tell You by Jing-Jing Lee

Posted by somtam2000 on 6/2/2017 at 20:05

Set in and around soon-to-be-demolished Block 204 in Singapore, If I Could Tell You, by Jing-Jing Lee, is a series of vignettes of ordinary people going about their everyday lives in the city state. A sudden tragedy loosely sews the narratives of the building’s various disparate inhabitants together, creating an overall portrait—and a likely unexpected one—of Singapore today. If I Could Tell You captures community in a changing Singapore, with each character offering a glimpse into a cert ...

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Book Review: Two Cities: Hanoi and Saigon

Posted by somtam2000 on 30/1/2017 at 19:25

Two Cities: Hanoi and Saigon is a slim, elegant book by Neil Sheehan about Vietnam in 1989. Sheehan was a correspondent in the South during the American War in Vietnam, and wrote the incredible A Bright Shining Lie, essential reading for anyone interested in this period, or indeed simply in journalism. Fifteen years after the war ended, Sheehan returns to Vietnam to visit Hanoi and Saigon as the nation embraces doi moi, or “renovation”, the gradual opening up of its economy to the world. ...

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Book Review: Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

Posted by somtam2000 on 22/1/2017 at 18:49

It’s more than a decade old, but 2005-published Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith remains a fun, offbeat examination of ordinary Thai lifestyles and culture. Cornwel-Smith peels back the layers of meaning draped over apparently mundane, everyday Thai practices from around the kingdom, such as, say, adorning the fronts of their houses with incredible elaborate grilles. Where on earth does that come from? “Despite Thailand’s class system, upward mobility is not jus ...

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Book Review: In Transit: An Anthology

Posted by somtam2000 on 15/1/2017 at 20:52

In Transit: An Anthology, is a collection of short stories, essays and poetry using Singapore’s Changi airport as either their focus or launchpad. Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow have edited a collection of snappy and intriguing pieces, from the whimsical, to the heart-wrenching, to the grim. Who knew an airport could be so ripe as a backdrop for stories? Writers in the collection tease out wide-ranging issues relating to identity, nationalism, class and relationships. Through the airpo ...

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Book Review: The Art of Travel

Posted by somtam2000 on 6/12/2016 at 05:41

Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel is a wonderfully wise and reassuring book. Whether you fear being disappointed when you travel, you’re looking for a reason to travel, or, in fact, you’re looking for an excuse to stay home, this little collection of essays should provide the solace you need. By sharing his own experiences on the road — yearning to stay in bed rather than exploring Madrid, arguing with his partner over sharing desserts in Barbados, seeing Provence through the eyes of ...

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Book Review: Black Water

Posted by somtam2000 on 29/11/2016 at 06:15

Black Water by Louise Doughty is a beautiful novel tracing the life of "John Harper", a name chosen by the son of an Indonesian-Dutch couple when he becomes an “operative” for the Amsterdam-based Institute. The novel moves backwards and forwards in time as it traverses the life of Harper following the downfall of Suharto in 1998. Harper was born to his Dutch mother, Anika, in an internment camp in Java, and his father is killed by the Japanese. Anika—who becomes an alcoholic — ...

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Book Review: Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the Kingdom

Posted by somtam2000 on 21/11/2016 at 00:33

Walter Mason’s Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the Kingdom is a gentle, intimate look at Cambodia today. Mason eschews writing both the usual political treatise and typical cliched travelogue you might otherwise typically find on the shelves about Cambodia, in favour of the highly personal memoir. He paints a detailed portrait of the kingdom through a series of quietly thoughtful vignettes of his relationships with her people. As in Mason’s earlier Destination Saigon, nothing particular ...

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Book Review: The Coroner's Lunch: A Dr Siri Murder Mystery

Posted by somtam2000 on 14/11/2016 at 01:45

The Coroner’s Lunch is an intelligently fun and readable murder mystery set in Laos. This is the first book we’ve read by prolific author Colin Cotterill, and it won’t be the last. In 1976, the Lao monarchy has just been deposed by the Communists. Dr Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old, Paris-trained doctor has been appointed state coroner by the new government, despite having no experience or interest in the job. While the sassy doctor has settled into the job, using old text books and occasiona ...

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Review: Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table

Posted by somtam2000 on 8/11/2016 at 03:29

Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table is a memoir of avid street-food-diner-turned-blogger Graham Holliday. It’s not a guide to Vietnamese cuisine or where to eat — though the more enthusiastic reader might take some notes and be well rewarded — but rather it’s a bit of a potted history of street food in both Hanoi and Saigon, from when it reappeared during the “doi moi” or economic renovation period of the late 1990s, and into the 2000s. Holliday’s love of eat ...

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Book Review: Many Lives

Posted by somtam2000 on 31/10/2016 at 01:00

The late M.R Kukrit Pramoj was a celebrated statesman, journalist, classical dancer, writer and “one of the most imposing and impressive personalities of modern Thai history”, according to scholar and translator, Meredith Borthwick. One of his most captivating literary works is Lai Chiwit, published in 1954 and later translated by Borthwick under the English title, Many Lives. The inspiration came dramatically. After Pramoj witnessed a bus accident that killed most of the passengers, he con ...

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Book Review: Singapore Noir

Posted by somtam2000 on 24/10/2016 at 20:58

Singapore Noir is a collection of 14 moody, totally enthralling short stories edited by Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan, each set in a recognisable neighbourhood in the titular city-state. If you’re looking to lift the city’s underbelly for a glimpse of what really goes on beyond the headlines of “Caning. Fines. Chewing gum” — as Tan writes in the introduction — these compelling stories are the best spot in modern literature to start. Crisp, colourful, shocking and, well, informative, the storie ...

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Book Review: From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965 to 2000

Posted by somtam2000 on 17/10/2016 at 05:58

If you’re interested in Singapore and want to know more, why not go straight to, pretty much, the source? The late Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s first prime minister, and he controversially led the 1965-founded city state for 31 years, shepherding it from the Third World (his description) to First. Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t argue with the fact he was largely responsible for the development of the tiny country that was once just a British colonial trading post to a world ec ...

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Book Review: The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/10/2016 at 04:36

Erudite, colourful and packed with intriguing anecdotes, Jamie James’ Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic is a romp through a bygone era, studying the lives of six artists who left their homelands to pursue creativity elsewhere. While it’s not specifically Southeast Asian focused, a few figures from the region feature: chiefly Walter Spies (1895-1942), the German painter who settled in Bali after a period in Java, and also Raden Saleh (1811-80), a Javanese painter ...

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Book Review: Beauty is a Wound

Posted by somtam2000 on 27/9/2016 at 01:32

Beauty is a Wound, the debut novel by Eka Kurniawan, is a rollicking, colourful, wild ride through Indonesian history, seen mostly from the perspective of Dewi Ayu, the mixed-race granddaughter of Dutch colonialists, and her four daughters to various fathers. In what feels like a quintessentially Indonesian (or at least, Javanese) beginning, the book opens with her mysteriously rising from the dead to return to the world of the living in May 1997, after 21 years in the ground. The narrative lea ...

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Book Review: Finding George Orwell

Posted by somtam2000 on 19/9/2016 at 23:03

Emma Larkin’s Finding George Orwell in Burma is a fascinating account of her year in Burma (Myanmar) tracking down the places George Orwell served his time as a British police officer when the country was ruled from Delhi as part of British India. Orwell spent the five years until 1927 in Burma, first in Mandalay, then a series of location including Myaungmya, Twante, Insein, Mawlamyine and eventually Kathar, the setting of his novel Burmese Days. This is a travel memoir in only the loosest ...

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Book Review: When the War Was Over

Posted by somtam2000 on 12/9/2016 at 03:00

When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker is one of the most compelling, unputdown-able books on the modern history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. Elizabeth Becker was a correspondent for the Washington Post in Cambodia from 1973, but left when the regime swept to power in April 1975. Invited back in 1978 just before the Vietnamese invaded, she was given a tour of the country with two other Westerners, an academic and another American journalist who was killed by a gunman in unexplained circ ...

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Book Review: Dogs at the Perimeter

Posted by somtam2000 on 5/9/2016 at 23:18

Dogs at the Perimeter, by Canadian author Madeleine Thien, traverses the life of Janie, a medical researcher who settled in Canada as a child after fleeing the horror of the Cambodian genocide. Her adult life unspools when her colleague, a Japanese-Canadian neurologist Hiroji Matsui, disappears. Hiroji and Janie had a special connection as Hiroji’s brother James had disappeared in 1975 after working as a doctor in the refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border and then in Phnom Penh . Jani ...

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