–Sightseeing, Rattawut Lapcharoensap. A collection of short stories set in contemporary Thailand, by turns cynical and sharp, sad and uplifting. The opening one, “Farangs”, set on a tourist island and from the point of view of a mixed-race Thai/American local boy, is a very biting look at the industry of tourism and how it distorts local life (and you gotta love the pet pig named Clint Eastwood). There’s a wide range of narrators and experiences, and it all adds up to a lovely atmosphere. It was a very refreshing book for me on two accounts: the first is that those are literary stories, and it’s nice to be reminded once in a while that short stories don’t have to follow the SFF genre conventions to work (few of those stories feature character change, but they still depict poignant and meaningful moments); and the second, of course, is that this is Thailand written by an insider, and a refreshing antidote to White Western writers depicting Thailand as a hellhole of prostitution where Thais abuse and/or sell each other.
–The Unicorn Banquet (Le Banquet de la Licorne), Tran-Nhut. Another episode in the ongoing adventure of the Vietnamese sleuth Mandarin Tân, and his sidekicks Scholar Dinh and Doctor Pig. The structure is unusual in that it’s a series of linked short stories told at a banquet held in the midst of a storm–and that the link turns out to be the lynchpin and decision point for the main character. There are mild fantastical elements (underwater naga kingdoms, for instance), but first and foremost, it remains an excellent crime novel, and a sharp look at all the layers of 15th-Century Vietnamese society, on the eve of the Trịnh–Nguyễn war. Also, OMG food porn. I was so hungry reading about the wonderful dishes of the banquet.
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