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Thai resident reads for proofreading and for pleasure,
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Paperback)
As a long-term resident of Thailand and as an avid science fiction reader, I knew I HAD to read this book not because of its odd premise but to proofread for cultural, geographic or linguistic errors... so my initial interest in Windup Girl was one of cynicism.
If you're interested in the more intricate details of what Bacigalupi was talking about when he mentions Thai places, language and customs then read further below. If you want to know if I liked to the book or not, then read this: Yes, though I don't think it's good enough for a Hugo award. And yes, I do hope he writes a sequel, albeit with my humble assistance.
The first half of the book immerses the reader in Bangkok geography with prominent locations such as Rama 9 Road, Ploen Chit, Yaowarat and the Chao Phraya River. Bacigalupi places the future windup spring factory on Rama 9 Road, when currently the area serves as a residential/commercial area, unsuitable for industrial use. Given that the Bangkok in Windup Girl is of the future, this can be looked past. Yaowarat is described as a slum suitable for the `yellow card' immigrants who are of Chinese-Malay origin. Modern day Yaowarat has some of the highest land values in Thailand so it seems unlikely for it to become a home to poor immigrants but at the same time, Yaowarat is also known as Chinatown where most of the shopkeepers are of Thai-Chinese origin. Having the Chinese-Malay immigrants housed on the same land of the Thai-Chinese paints a picture of sympathetic existence in a new country. So, the locations in Bangkok aren't glaringly incorrect, just a little skewed in favor of the future plot of Bacigalupi. My only problems with are the occasional cobbled roads (there are none), the supposedly `long walk' from Rama 9 Road Yaowarat would actually be quite the overland trek by foot and Rama 12 Road, which will most likely never come into existence (touchy subject, honestly).
There is a mixture of Thai, Chinese and Japanese in Windup Girl and the language depends on which narrative path is followed. Hong Seng uses some Chinese words which I don't understand, Jaidee and the other Thai characters use Thai which though the Romanization is bad I can still understand it, while Emiko is Japanese and speaks all three languages which is confusing because the italicized could be Thai, Chinese of Japanese. I had a big problem with the Romanization as it wasn't standardized. I didn't know what `heeya' meant because of the bad spelling, which should have been more properly spelt `hia' or `hee-a' which means a villain (or a person who brings bad luck, also the name of the monitor lizard). More Romanization which made me flinch were `kothorh' (kau tote), `padh seeu' (phat si-ew) and the province of Kanchanaburi was misspelled as `Katchanaburi.' When characters drink alcohol, Bacigalupi calls it `laolao' but I've never heard it called that before though `lao' means alcohol. Perhaps he meant `laokhao' which would be rice wine but it's a forgivable mistake.
Culturally, I found just one or two flaws as I did with language and location. All the Thai characters go by their full first name when in reality Thai's will use a nickname, only using their given name in formal circumstances. One would often find modern nicknames in Thailand like Pear, Apple, Pepsi, Ice, Soda instead of the traditional names Chaya, Kanya, Ratana and Jaidee. And the biggest no-no came when Bacigalupi changed the feudal/social hierarchy of Thailand with `the king places the environment ministry above even monks.' I had to shake my head at his and strongly disagree as even the monks are above the king in the hierarchy as they are the sole vehicles for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The last quarter of the book made me smile as Bacigalupi started to include some in-the-know humor which would fly over the heads of the average reader. It started to feel like he kept an eye out for the science fiction readers in Thailand... namely, me. Bacigalupi includes the name Chart Korbjitti as significant to Thai folklore on page 213 when in reality Chart is an award-winning Thai novelist and columnist (I've actually read two of his novels before). There is a scene on pages 215-218 when the female characters Kanya and Ratana confront each other when Kanya is of lower rank and has to `play the part of the dee' while Ratana has to `play the part of the tom.' This is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a lesbian relationship (lady and tomboy) which I won't go on about, but it's still quite funny how he slipped that in there. Bacigalupi even manages to swear in Thai with `kot rai' which means `damn evil' or another word stronger than `damn.'
Windup Girl is also somewhat timely as some of the conflict is between the white shirts and the yellow cards, which in the past four years in Thailand the conflict has been between yellow shirts and red shirts... both equally destroying the image of a peaceful kingdom. Also included is a militant religious group called the Green Headbands, though the militant Islamists in the south of Thailand have yet to foil like in the capitol of Bangkok.
All in all, it was a good solid novel even with its sometimes flighty characters, annoying conversations with a ghost and vivid descriptions of a jade phallus in action. If Bacigalupi pens a sequel to Windup Girl, you can expect me to be waiting in line for it if it even reaches the shelves on the poorly stocked bookstores of Kinokuniya here. I'm a fan.
*** Maybe it was simply an oversight that Bacigalupi included the word `Chapter' only in front of chapters 19, 26 and 28 but he had me conspiring for a while flipping through the pages trying to find a common theme in the chapters, yet to no avail.