Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bits of humor in Breathing Water

I'll start from the end, with Timothy Hallinan's author's note: "Those of you who find it difficult to believe in the Bangkok that's depicted here should know that millions of people feel exactly the same way about the real-life city."

And this, about a quarter of the way into the book:
"You were–" He turns to Dr. Ravi and says, in English, "I don't know the Thai. Tell him he was appalling."

"I think ... " Dr. Ravi swallows. "I think he's already gotten that message."

"A bodyguard can level with him and you can't? What kind of amanuensis are you?"

"I'm not an amanuensis. I'm his media director."

"Goddamn it," Pan says in heavily accented English. "Speak Thai. Or translate."

Or this:
"The activity had the unfortunate effect of making him look even more like a monkey, one who is on the verge of inventing a tool but probably won't."
That sentence could do without "had the unfortunate effect of," and for all I know, it may be changed before the book goes to press. But this matters little because the passage is a gorgeous description of a big, dumb, powerful thug. And that matters. The big, dumb, powerful thug is a crime-fiction staple, and Hallinan makes it fresh. Breathing Water is a pleasure to read.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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23 Comments:

Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

Being a neighbour of Thailand (thigh/Thai jokes are pretty staple here, esp because of the flourishing body-trade in Bangkok and Thai beaches), I just loved the vividness of these descriptions. Acutely observed!

June 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! So I am not the first person to engage in Thai/high/thigh wordplay.

I could prepare a post about the novel's vivid descriptions. Often the action will pause for a sentence or paragraph of description, as if in defiance of the rule that a thriller must keep the action going every second. This lends the novel an interesting pace -- and it's a risky move for an author. Pause the action for description, and the descriptions had better be good. In this book, they are.

The book is narrated from a third-person point of view, but I suspect that the descriptive technique I mentioned is due to Hallinan's own situation. He's American, but he has lived in Thailand for years. Like his protagonist, he probably moves fluidly through much of Thai life but is still surprised often enough to stop and contemplate what he sees.

You might enjoy my interview with Mr.Hallinan here.

June 24, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

"I'm not at amanuensis. I'm his media director."

Oh, this is funny on so many levels.

June 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I enjoyed this book on - as you say Loren - several levels.

Not that long ago I was on the Thai-Malaysia border which is a very Muslim area. Women in burkhas etc. The only flesh on display ironically was from the European and N American backpackers taking those hellish mini buses from Singapore to Bangkok. It was interesting to see Thais ogling the westerners for a change.

June 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, Loren, it's a pleasure to see amanuensis tossed off so casually. It's a pleasure that a powerful, enigmatic figure of mysterious origins would have a media director. And it's a treat to have a character so fastidious as to resent being taken for one rather than the other.

June 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, did those Westerners chuckle at the irony?

June 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I did because I was just on a quick jaunt up from Panang but all the other Westerners were only half way through some godawful 20 hour mini bus ride and their morale was too sapped to be ironic or light hearted.

June 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I can see where they might not have appreciated the ironies of cultural role reversal, sweating like pigs as they were and lusted after by the natives.

In re godawful 20-hour minibus rides, lord, the stupid, unfathomable stuff people do when trying to recapture the spirit of the '60s. Lord, the stupid unfathomable stuff people did in the '60s.

June 24, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"Lord, the stupid unfathomable stuff people did in the '60s."

A friend of mine had a Doberman Pinscher he named Kandahar. Why? Because he'd hiked through Afghanistan in the 1970s and liked the name.

June 25, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linkmeister

My little brother is off to Kandahar for six months next week.

June 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I guess that was a time when people would do that sort of thing in that part of the world. That seems very Hunter S. Thompson.

I don't know what I'd call pet dogs if I named them after memorable experiences I'd had on my travels. Maybe I'd have a pair of schnauzers called Oeufs Mayonnaise and Piero della Francesca.

June 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, hell, Kandahar would be such a fascinating meeting place of East and West, Indian and Macedonian, if the more recent meetings of East and West had not been so dangerous. God speed your brother back from there safely and with some good stories.

June 25, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

adrian, as a member of an NGO or military outfit?

Either way, I wish him all the good fortune in the world.

June 25, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linkmeister.

He's in the Royal Navy. I've explained that Afghanistan is a landlocked country but this so far hasn't deterred him.

June 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Can a sailor enjoy shore leave in a landlocked land?

June 26, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Not sure if there's even a lake.

Once I had a delightful encounter with two members of the Bolivian Navy. I even the pictures to prove it. And I'm smiling too, but how could you not in the presence of two representatives of such a quixotic force.

June 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bolivia has Late Titicaca. And it lost its coastal territory during war in the nineteenth century, so perhaps its navy is a nostalgic, emotional tie to those prewar days.

June 26, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

There are quite a few US Navy Seabees and Civil Engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment, or so I'm told by their monthly magazine (Dad was a member of the Civil Engineer Corps for 32 years).

June 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just found out what a Seabee is. Makes sense for folks like that to be in countries undergoing reconstruction, sea or no sea.

June 27, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Sorry, I shouldn't have assumed everyone knew that term. SeaBee = Construction Battalion initialization.

Wikipedia article.

But how could you have missed the John Wayne film The Fighting Seabees? (I've seen it; it's typical of Republic's wartime films.)

June 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I vaguely recalled having heard the term before. I probably never looked up because a) I had no reason to, and b) I probably had bo reason to guess that Sea part of the name was an initial. But I did look up the term and learn its meaning before I posted my reply to your comment. The article to which you link is probably the same one that I found.

Did John Wayne make a movie about each branch of the U.S. military?

June 27, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Heh. Yep.

June 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was going as say, "What about the Coast Guard?" but I see they're in there, too.

June 27, 2009  

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