3 out of 4 stars
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In Dear Thailand: A Love Story, Diane de Simone writes a series of letters to Thailand. In writing to her adopted country, we learn about the life of the author and why she is captivated by Thailand. She first visits the country shortly after deaths of her mother, brother and a close friend. Upon returning to America, she quickly decides to move to Thailand. She brings her father with her, as he has been devastated by the loss of his wife and son. In Thailand, she finds support for taking care of him in his last days and develops a compassion toward her father that she was unable to find while living in California. She also meets a woman named Naam Jai, who becomes her spiritual mentor. In the process of her journeying between the two countries, she evolves into a different spiritual being and eventually finds a new lifestyle that provides meaning to her.
While much of the narrative is about her personal experiences, the letters also contain a running commentary about the cultural difference between East and West. The author explores these differences through a number of societal themes, such as how we treat the elderly, how we approach death, why we are so tied to the consumerism of buying “stuff” and how we approach the stresses of our daily lives.
I really enjoyed reading this book, from a couple of different perspectives. It is one part spiritual pilgrimage and one part travelogue, documenting the beauty of Thailand and its people. It emotionally grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go. In some ways, it reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love by Liz Gilbert. Even though the author seems to have a vastly different background than mine, I felt a strong simpatico with her thoughts and feelings. I often smiled at her references. Here is one example: “In the middle of being surrounded by death I grokked I’d been following old and well-worn cultural lines for decades, and had not consciously questioned any of my steps.” For those of you who are not familiar with the term “grok,” I refer you one of my favorite books, Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein.
The one thing I wish could be improved is the overall pace of the book. It often has a “breathless” feel that I think is primarily attributable to a preponderance of run-on sentences. So much is packed into each sentence that I had to read many of them a couple of times, in order to fully understand the individual ideas being conveyed. There are also some occurrences of awkward phrasing or the use of an incorrect word. The opening sentence is an example: “When I walked out of the plane into the vaulted spaces of your internationally acclaimed Suvarnabhumi airport at the end of the first decade of the third millennium on my first one month visit with you, I was wobbly and jet-lagged and yet zinging with a feeling of arriving somewhere absolutely foreign and also strangely familiar and also comforting.”
I so thoroughly enjoyed the book’s content that I really wanted to give it four stars. Because of the pace of the narrative, however, I reluctantly felt that I had to reduce the rating by one star. Therefore, I rate Dear Thailand 3 out of 4 stars. I would not recommend if you think that Western culture is unquestionably superior to others, as this book would likely clash with your beliefs. I would enthusiastically recommend it to those who enjoy learning about foreign cultures and those who are interested in the spiritual journey of others. Reading the author’s story will encourage you to escape, for a day or perhaps a lifetime, from the crazy, unsatisfying life that many of us lead.
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