Bangkok Blondes by The Bangkok Women's Writers Group (Bangkok Book House)

Sporting heavily bleached hair extensions that were once silky, black strands on a Thai girl's head, learning how to rid an apartment of its resident ghost, finding a future husband at a market stall, eating lunch on Christmas Day with murderers and drug dealers--welcome to the world of the Bangkok Blondes.


They're not exclusively blondes, these articulate women who live in Bangkok, and they are definitely not the chick-lit purveyors that the title and cover of this anthology might imply. They are writers who give a multi-faceted and unstereotypical view of a city that they all know well.

For decades, books about Bangkok have been dominated by the perspective of the Barstool Buddhists, those old Bangkok hands who, to a man, have suffered at the soft and gentle hands of Thai girls and have lived to tell, and retell, the tale. (Notable exceptions to this school of writing are Colin Cotterill and Jim Eckardt, authors who have gone beyond the bar scene with praiseworthy literary results.) For a woman's take on Thailand's capital city, readers could choose either Carol Hollinger's classic Mai Pen Rai (Means Never Mind) or Karen Connelly's classic Touch the Dragon (published in the U.S. as Dream of a Thousand Lives). And that was all she wrote--until the Bangkok Women's Writers Group came along.

A collection of personal essays and fiction with a smattering of poetry, Bangkok Blondes provides an honest, idiosyncratic view of the eastern hemisphere's City of Angels. Jess Tansutat, the volume's sole Thai contributor says in her outstanding essay, The Butterfly Game, "For me, the "city of angels" seems to have just too many angels." She handles the difficulty of dating in Bangkok with objectivity, wisdom, and humor, and then the book moves on--no whining, no sniveling--to other facets of Bangkok life.

Pursuing fitness, braving the language barrier in a hair salon, working as an extra on a television commercial, making it past cultural hurdles with Thai boyfriends are stories that are fun to read but aren't unexpected topics. Examining Thai culture while driving in a city that has taken the traffic jam to an art form, playing the Bangkok version of Russian Roulette by riding side-saddle on the back of a motorcycle taxi, living with a statue of the Buddha that's taken on a disconcerting life of its own, undergoing colonic therapy, braving the wild confusion of Romanized Thai and English that has been thoroughly reinvented: these are all things that could only be written by people with open minds and hearts who have willingly submitted to another culture, and that make this collection one to seek out and read.

The pure joy of a book like Bangkok Blondes is discovering new voices. The frustration of it is longing for more from particular voices--Martha Scherzer, Chloe Trindall, Jess Tansutat, Zoe Popham are all writers who should be working on their very own books. But this is only one opinion. Every reader of Bangkok Blondes will discover her own favorite writer--like a box of good chocolates, this book has a wide variety of choices and something for every taste.