Book Reviews

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Vapour Trails

Tales from Rural Thailand

Tarmo Rajasaari

2003, 160 pp.,15 b & w illustrations, 21.5 x 15.2 cm., softbound.

ISBN-10: 974-524-026-5 $17.95
ISBN-13: 978-974-524-026-1

Book review by John Haylock

The Journal of the Siam Society: Volume 91, 2003

The author is a Finnish freelance writer and photographer. He is forty-three and trained as a mental health nurse. For two years he lived in a hut in Isan near the Cambodian border and helped local farmers. His short pieces add up to a detailed account of life in this hot, parched, poor and mosquito-ridden part of Thailand.
   Some of the stories concern slight incidents that occur to villagers, others involve disruptive changes in their lives. Now and then the writer enters the minds of his characters and reveals their musings about the past. These attempts at empathy are on the whole credible.
   In ‘Alien Encounter’ Sawai, a grandmother, takes a train into the nearby town to withdraw money from the bank. That morning on the TV news there had been a report about a new galaxy and that perhaps there was life on one of its stars. On arrival last the bank, Sawai finds it is shut, so she has to go back to the railway station. To her dismay, her purse is missing. Waiting there is a blond Westerner wearing shorts. She is fascinated by his hairy thighs and cannot resist pinching one of them. The strange foreigner does not mind this impertinence and shows her photographs of his homeland. He helps her into the train. She is anxious about not having any money for a ticket; fortunately the conductor neglects to ask her for one and so Sawai gets a free ride home.
   In ‘Decision’ Lai goes rat-hunting for his family’s supper. He catches a rat but lets it go. He has been a monk and enjoyed talking to the monks at the temple. He begins to feel that the Buddhist teaching he had was right. He spurns his wife’s advances, suggests she finds another husband, and in spite of her protestations he joins the monks.
   Daeng is a cowherd, and while watching his herd is bitten by a snake. The author gives a graphic description of Daeng, who is far away any help, dying in extreme agony. This is an example of the powerful use of empathy.
   Wichai, fond of the bottle but is tired of his wife’s nagging, decides to run away to Khon Kaen. He catches a bus which only takes him part of the way. He waits for another in vain. Finally he gets a lift home and is much relieved to be back.
   Nam goes to Bangkok and becomes a prostitute. On a visit to her village she ignores her mother’s pleadings to her not to go back to the capital. Eventually after fifteen years she does return. She is nervous about the kind of reception she will get. When her mother, now aged, sees her they fall into each other’s arms.
   ‘Journeyman’ is about a Thai boxing match between Seri, a local boxer, whose ability is on the wane, and a star boxer from Bangkok, famous on TV. The Bangkok boxer’s fighting name is The Tormentor. He treats Seri with disdain. The punches and the kicks sustained by Seri are vividly described. The wretched local man is bleeding profusely and can hardly stand. His thoughts flash back to Puri, the girl who left him. Finally, when almost a complete wreck, Seri, making an enormous effort, manages to land a punch that knocks out The Tormentor and he wins. This account is disturbingly real and shows more than any of the other stories Mr Rajasaari’s writing strength.
   The mild events coupled with the violent ones give the ordinary reader a broad view of life in Isan.

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