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Books forum

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: 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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Book Review: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Posted by somtam2000 on 29/8/2016 at 20:34

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman is a multi-layered, stunning and heartbreaking book about the lives of a Hmong refugee family from Laos in Merced, California. One of their daughters, Lia Lee, suffers from severe epilepsy, and Fadiman covers the terrible struggles the family endures in dealing with her illness in the American medical system of the 1980s. Much of the provision of care was free, but the cultural barriers were enormous. A friend who read this book years ago ...

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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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