Reading

Since moving to Thailand, I have made it my mission to read as many books about the area as possible. I like to read about the history of a place before we visit, and I have made my way through a sizable collection of both fiction and non-fiction about Southeast Asia. The ladies here in Bangkok have a monthly book, which is more of a book swap than the traditional book club. English language books are pricey, so we all bring books to share. We spend the evening chatting about our recent reads, swapping books, and sampling vino. I have learned so much in reading about this region, and I know I have other literary-minded friends! If you’re interested, here are some good reads to check out:

Cambodia

  • First They Killed My Father; Lucky Child, Loung Ung ~ Non-fiction, the author was a young girl when the Khmer Rouge took over her country. She tells the tale of her family’s fate in depressing but insightful detail. Her second book, Lucky Child, follows the parallel stories of Loung Ung, who is resettled in Essex, Vermont (close to my hometown) and her older sister who remains behind in Cambodia.

China

  • Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion, Michael Levy ~ Levy spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Guiyang in southern China. I read this book after reading River Town (see below) and it was really interesting to compare Hessler’s experience to Levy’s. Hessler lived in China in the late 90s right after the country began accepting Peace Corps members, while Levy volunteered in 2005. Overall, Levy’s account of his experience was much lighter and wittier than Hessler’s. River Town made me want to research Chinese history and geology, Kosher Chinese simply made me laugh.
  • River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler ~ Hessler lived in China’s Sichuan province for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was super interesting reading about his expat experience, and seeing a view of China from the inside. Definitely recommend.

Laos

  • Another Quiet American, Brett Dakin ~ Dakin spent two years living in Vientiane working with the Laos tourism agency. The book follows his adventures, as well as sharing some of Laos history. It was a great read, and interesting to hear about parts of the culture from the expat perspective.
  • Bamboo Palace: Discovering the Lost Dynasty of Laos, Christopher Kremmer ~ Non-fiction, Kremmer follows various leads to try and solve the disappearance of the Laos royal family. Along the way he has some random adventures, and interviews many interesting people. This book was a good way to learn about Laos history.

Myanmar (Burma)

  • Burmese Days, George Orwell ~ Historical fiction, the book follows a middle-aged British functionary stationed at a small colonial outpost in the north of Burma. Like most Orwell books, it was both engaging and depressing.
  • Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story, Karen Connelly ~ I had mixed feelings about this book; I loved the portions describing the author’s travels in Myanmar, and her insights about the culture, but I lost interest in the love story. The book is non-fiction, and contained some great information about the places she visited, particularly the Burmese refugee and guerrilla camps along the Thai border. I’m curious to read her other non-fiction work on the topic, The Lizard Cage (hopefully less love story in that one).
  • Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin ~ The author follows the path that Orwell took during the time he spent in Burma as a young man, trying to trace his footsteps and uncover some of his influences. Her own experiences and interviews with people she meets are woven throughout. Read Burmese Days first so that this book makes sense.
  • The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker ~ Fiction novel that follows a young woman who journeys to Myanmar in search of her father who mysteriously disappeared. The story was super engaging and included tons of Burmese culture. The novel was an easy read, and the ending was completely unexpected and well done. Highly recommend!
  • The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh ~ Historical fiction following three generations of a Burmese/Indian family. The author did his research and the book is packed with facts, as well as being a good read. I loved the first two-thirds of this book; the ending dragged a bit but I definitely still recommend.
  • Twilight Over Burma: My Life As A Shan Princess, Inge Sargent ~ The author met her husband at university, only to discover after marriage that he was the prince of a Shan state in Burma. The memoir tells of her experiences adapting to her new life in Burma, as well as the growing political turmoil that preceded the coup. Not well-written but still engaging.
  • Under The Dragon: A Journey Through Burma, Rory Maclean ~ Part travel writing, part historical fiction. The author revisits Burma in the early 2000s and tells of his experiences, as well as the struggles of those he meets living under the military regime. I loved this book!

Thailand

  • Catching The Sun, Tony Parsons ~ Entertaining novel about a British family who move to Phuket for a year. Although it’s fiction, large portions of the ex-pat experience in Thailand rang true.
  • The Railway Man, Eric Lomax ~ The author was a communications officer in the British army when Singapore was captured in WWII. He was subsequently captured and forced to work on the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi (click here to read my blog post on the matter). Depressing but well-written. There is a movie of the same title starring Colin Firth.

Vietnam

  • The Lotus Eaters, Tatjana Soli ~ Great novel about a female photographer stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Equals parts history, war drama, and romance. Highly recommend!

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