Tales of the (Asian) City?
May 4, 2008 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Reading yesterday’s Tales of the City post, I got to wondering: are there any books set in Southeast Asian locations that “sell” their settings the way Tales of the City does for San Francisco, or The Number One Ladies Detective Agency does for Botswana?

I'm thinking about books that make you want to visit the setting depicted in the story; Alexander McCall Smith's books, for example, make me want to visit Botswana. You can feel the love of the place radiating off of each page.

I personally haven't read Tales of the City, but the post suggests that Maupin does the same thing for San Francisco.

Are there any books out there that make you "feel the love" for Bangkok, or Singapore, even Vientiane?

(Full disclosure: I'm the guide for Southeast Asia Travel on about.com - I'm thinking about reviewing any such books)
posted by micketymoc to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
John Burdett's books, starting with Bangkok 8 do it for me, but I've never been there, so don't know how they stack up against the real place.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:31 PM on May 4, 2008

(Orwell's Burmese Days is the opposite of the book you're looking for. Just in case you thought of checking it out.)
posted by scruss at 7:33 PM on May 4, 2008

John Burdett's books stacked up pretty well for me when I went to Bangkok a couple of times this year. So yes, definitely read them. I would also like to recommend The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw, which has a great depiction of Ipoh in Malaysia (albeit set around 1940-60) - the great thing is Ipoh is relatively untouched by development compared to much of SEAsia, so you can go there and get a great feeling for what you've been reading. Also the hawker food is excellent. Another recommendation is Fragrant harbour by John Lanchester. I thought it would be crap initially, but it turned out to be quite good and definitely coincided with my own experiences of Hong Kong.
posted by awfurby at 2:04 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

A bit dated and a bit colonial, but John Le Carré's The Honourable Schoolboy is great fun for British Hong Kong. And spies.
The Year of Living Dangerously ditto for Cold War Jakarta.
If Sydney counts as South-East Asia (as Keating might have said) then Peter Corris's Cliff Hardy detective novels and short stories, for Sydney in the late seventies and early eighties.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:42 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I finally got the chance to visit the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong (where some of the action from The Honourable Schoolboy takes place), but to my dismay it's in a different place to where it used to be located, and for some odd reason the Club makes mention of the book by means of a plaque over the men's urinal.
posted by awfurby at 4:14 AM on May 5, 2008

Oh yes, and I second the Cliff Hardy novels suggestion for Sydney. Haven't really found a good analogue for Melbourne. Interesting how crime novels are featuring in this short list - I guess in crime novels the city the crime is set in is one of main characters.

I think one of Nury Vittachi's Feng Shui Detective series is set in Singapore and one in Hong Kong. Pretty light entertainment but you might find something good about them.
posted by awfurby at 4:20 AM on May 5, 2008

I just started reading Vittachi's latest Feng Shui Detective book, set in Shanghai. Enjoying it so far, since I was recently there. Any and all Haruki Murakami books do a wonderful job on selling various cities in Japan. It's one of my favourite countries to visit and reading his books always makes me want to go back.

I just visited Daunt Books in London which is a bookstore for travellers, including thousands of books about different cities - plenty of good examples if you get a chance to go there!
posted by wingless_angel at 5:52 AM on May 5, 2008

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