Independent Book Review : Khao San Road

by Thai Websites

David Young has been active as a ‘Bangkok writer’ since he published his first novel The Scribe in 2000. Subsequent novels include : Thailand Joy (2002), Fast Eddie’s Lucky 7 A Go Go (2004), Sukhumvit Road (2005), Bangkok Dick (2006), No Problem Girl (2008). Just recently he published his latest book : Khao San Road. His first book,The Scribe, about a guy writing love letters on behalf of Bangkok working girls, was a great success by Bangkok standards.

David Young is different from other writers. Most of his novels are not crime-related, but tell ordinary stories about ‘ordinary’ foreigners in Bangkok. Bar girls sometimes have a role in his stories. His writing style is fluid, and his stories are invariably funny. His characters often seem to be lost, and end up in unfortunate situations.

This is also true in his latest novel: Khao San Road. As most know, Khao San Road is a relatively small road in the historical part of Bangkok, where a lot of the young crowd hang out, with lots of small restaurants, guest houses, travel agents, and all kind of ‘Thai industries’ catering to young backpacker travelers.

There is not one big storyline here. We follow the travails of different people that end up on Khao San Road. The fact that the story is set in Khao San Road also possibly reflects the age of David Young. He is young indeed, when compared with some of the other well-knows writers in town (who prefer their characters to hang out around Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, and even Washington Square of all places).

There is the head of the English department (who hardly speaks English) and her ‘Bossman’, a self-important director of his school, who comes looking for English teachers, to upgrade the school. Am, the female teacher, has a relationship with one of her pupils, which of course is not politically correct. Nevertheless, we found her most sympathetic.

There is the unlikely couple of Kimmy and Blaise. Kimmy comes looking for an old husband, to divorce him (something she neglected to do ), now that she intends to marry Blaise. Blaise is a minor celebrity and self-help guru, who seems to promote some brand of assertiveness, but does not quite succeed applying his theories in his own life.

There is Daniel, who is seen and sees himself as a ‘blank slate’, someone who is trying to find himself and what he is doing in Bangkok and life.

Then there is the old rock-star groupie (former husband, or is he?, of Kimmy), who never grew up, and now has to earn a living fooling gullable travelers with various ingenious little scams.

All of the characters basically are in sort of a mess. They have difficulty controlling events and are driven by them. As described elsewhere (at the Asia Books website), this is a comedy of lost souls. We follow the different little adventures of the main characters. The characters eventually ‘find’ each other, and end up together.

Khao San Road offers light, pleasant reading. We like David Young’s books, although on occasion he goes just a bit over the top. The author creates funny content, you can not turn a page of this book, without something at least mildly hilarious turning up.

The setting of the book is the right one. We assume a lot of the young travelers that end up on Khao San Road, are still in the process of experimenting with life, trying to find themselves.

By the way, the books of David Young seem to be very poorly marketed. About two months after publishing, a search with his name and the title of the book, just shows two relevant entries with Google. The new book is also not yet mentioned on the website of Hostage Press International, the publisher, at the time we wrote this review.

On the other hand, the paper quality of his books is very good, glossy and above regular standards. Despite that, the book is cheap (Khao San Road buys for less than 400 baht). While you are at it, we recommend also No Problem Girl, about some funny business involving a dating agency.

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