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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

His Feet Are On The Noble Path

Ah me! Despite the pile of library books waiting by the couch, I find myself unable to settle for reading any of them. The reason for this is that I recently finished The Godfather of Kathmandu, and am finding it hard to leave Krung Thep (the Thai name for what we farang call Bangkok) and Nepal,  for any less exotic locales, and Sonchai Jitpleecheep for any less endearing character.

  This novel is the fourth in John Burdett's series of mysteries set in Bangkok.  Burdett's protagonist is  Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, son of an American father and a Thai mother.  Sonchai is a devout Buddhist, he calls himself a monk manqué, and it is this aspect of the novels more than anything else that keeps me waiting for the next one.  These novels are gritty, to say the least, grisly is actually more accurate.  The strange thing is that they are also quite spiritual at the same time.  Sonchai's quest  to become ever more enlighted, to be a good person, making merit, living according to the teachings of Theravada Buddhism is not easy, living, as he does, in the midst of such astounding corruption and squalor, in a city awash in the sex and drug trades, a police force that aids and abets both undertakings,  Sonchai's efforts towards his spiritual goals are every bit as absorbing (possibly even more so)  as his efforts to solve the fantastically horrible crimes he is assigned by Col. Vikorn, at once his boss and nemesis.

It is the character of Sonchai that makes me love these books. John Burdett's own essay on how he came to write this Bangkok series explains a lot. It is clear that he has immersed himself in the life of the city about which he writes, and the philosophy of his main character.  Theravada Buddhism is an ancient study of human consciousness,"a radically honest and penetrating assessment of the human condition" which I find fascinating, even inviting.  Sonchai finds in it a way to cope with the moral ambiguity of much of his life, with the pain and suffering that surrounds him, with his own divided nature, being half Thai, half farang. The story in this book wanders around Asia, introduces way too many fantastical characters, and is, ultimately, quite farfetched.  Nonetheless, Sue Grafton's newest alphabetical mystery starring Kinsey Milhone in coastal California just isn't grabbing my soul by the neck and leaving me panting for more the way that Burdett's anguished detective always does.

Read more about Burdett and his books in this NYT article: John Burdett:  Detective writer at work in a seedy Bangkok district. (Photo from Photo Gallery at Burdett's website.)


Robbie said...

Wow! They sound incredibly interesting. I'm reading several non-fiction books right now and none of them but one which is the one I read at work and never have time for is interesting me in the least but I'm trying desperately to trudge through to the end.

marigolds2 said...

Burdett is an incredible writer and his books take you far away into a different world - but these books are not for everyone. My partner can't read them, can't listen to them on audio. Too violent, too grisly.

But, listen, life is too short to read books you have to "desperately trudge through." Unless they're things you have to read for a class or training, something like that, put those books away and go find something that will engage your mind or heart or soul !!!!!

Neil said...

I have to check out Mr Burdett. Sounds a little like the Tony Hillerman books that intrigued me with their descriptions of Navajo culture. I wonder if you are familiar with Hillerman?

marigolds2 said...

Neil, so wonderful to hear from you this afternoon. Tony Hillerman is one of the things that drew me to New Mexico - I have read all of his books, have seen the two (I think it is)films that Robert Redford made from his books. He died in either 08 or 09, since we've been here anyway - and our branch of the ABQ Public Library is named for him. Our library is wonderful for two reasons - it houses the rose collection of the ABQ Rose Society on its grounds, and it's called The Tony Hillerman Library.

Neil said...

Hillerman's obit in the NY Times was interesting. There aren't many celebrities that I would like to have met, but Tony Hillerman is one.