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 Book Review: Bizarre Thailand: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic, by Jim Algie (2010) Marshal Cavendish

By Christopher G. Moore

Many of the events, images, and personalities in Bizarre Thailand will be familiar to experienced travelers or to expats who have lived in Thailand for any length of time.  Over the years, most people in these two groups will have read an article about See Uey, the Chinese Cannibal, sex workers, body snatchers, amulets, fighting fish, and the supernatural. To his credit, Jim Algie makes these subjects fresh, vivid and personal. My first impression was this would be a book that you would dip into. That wasn’t the case for me. I read this collection of articles from cover to cover with admiration for the way Algie was able to keep my concentration and focus on subjects that I thought that I knew inside out.


The essay titled ‘The Artist of Bizarre Architecture’ registers the multi-faceted personality of Sumet Jumsai in the tradition of the best, balanced biographies.  Another standout essay is titled ‘Empowering Sex Workers’ in which he details the long fight for acceptance by the authorities by a tiny group of NGOs who have stayed the course and made a big difference in the lives of countless people in the sex industry.


The pieces on Chavoret Jaruboon, Thai’s last executioner by rifle fire, Dr. Porntip

Rojanasunan, Thailand’s top forensics expert, and Susan Aldous, an Australian who set up a one person NGO to assist people in prison and jail bring to the forefront the inner emotional lives of these well-known people. Algie was able to dig deep, to get under their skin and to allow them to reveal the deeper layers of their personality, allows us to better understand what motives them.


My favourite articles feature the author and his Thai wife, traveling to Cambodia and we follow as she gradually sheds her prejudice against the Khmer. The book also succeeds as a personal chronicle of her reassessment of orthodox ways of Thai thinking, whether about the Thai prejudice about the Khmer, Thai history books version about Siamese twins Chang and Eng, and the meaning of cowboys and the wild American West. The author and his wife become our guides as they contemplate each other’s cultural wisdom and we discover how they have enriched each other’s lives as they travel through the bizarre world of Thailand.


I’d recommend Bizarre Thailand to anyone who wants a new perspective about Thai cultural elements that have made and continue to make Thailand unique and amazing. Algie has taken his journalistic instincts inside the half-concealed enclaves, which shields the most interesting people and has used his literary skills to reveal their complexity. He takes the reader along for a memorable, authentic, and exciting journey into the heart and soul of Thailand.


Posted: 11/19/2010 1:32:02 AM 


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