Official Review: The Big Buddha Bicycle Race

Please use this forum to discuss historical fiction books. Common definitions define historical fiction as novels written at least 25-50 years after the book's setting.
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Official Review: The Big Buddha Bicycle Race

Post by Lest92 » 22 Sep 2017, 08:47

[Following is an official review of "The Big Buddha Bicycle Race" by Terence A. Harkin.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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Terence A. Harkin’s novel, The Big Buddha Bicycle Race, is set in Thailand during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, telling the story of Brendan Leary’s war experience and the relationship between American troops and the Thai people who accommodated them. Amazon classifies the novel as literary fiction or historical romance.

Pacifist Brendan Leary’s draft-dodging luck has run out when his lawyer failed to stop his orders to ship out to Southeast Asia. His safe job editing film for the army at their base in California ends when Brendan ships out to his new base in exotic Ubon, Thailand. There, his work involves editing combat footage for the 601st Photo Squadron. He is reasonably safe from deployment until he participates in a Black Panther march and his superior officers assign him to the position of combat cameraman for the Spectre night flights over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

He lives off base in downtown Ubon, sharing a house with fellow G.I.s and their Thai girlfriends. Living in town gives them the opportunity to integrate closely with the Thais, and Brendan makes friends there, among them Tukada, a beautiful, heroin-addicted masseuse he becomes attracted to, and her half-brother Prasert. Brendan organises a bicycle race to Big Buddha, scheduled for the weekend before President Nixon arrives in China. The race serves many purposes: as a personal relations gesture to the Thais from the American soldiers, a means to make money, and a way to celebrate what Brendan and his friends believed was the ending of the Vietnam War. Although the race begins well and all participants are in high spirits, Brendan worries about Tukada, who has gone missing, and the other G.I.s doubt Prasert’s friendship and loyalty to the American army.

The novel started slowly, but once Brendan arrives in Ubon, the story picks up since Brendan’s impressions of the town and its people are so vivid; it felt like I was there with the character hanging out in clubs, enduring the monsoon and frightening flights over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Being a freethinking pacifist in G.I.’s clothing gives Brendan a different perspective of the war compared to blindly obedient soldiers or those who relish it. Harkin has a talent for description and expressing the finer facets of thought and the existential crises Brendan goes through during the course of his enlistment. However, the story encompasses much more than tragedy. Harkin is a witty visual writer, and the humour in The Big Buddha Bicycle Race is subtle but memorable. The dialogue is on point. Some of the conversations between the characters reminded me of those in Pulp Fiction, as they sound real and are immersive.

Overall, The Big Buddha Bicycle Race is a superbly crafted story anyone who is interested in literary fiction, as well as war stories, especially those set during the Vietnam War, will appreciate. The author provides a helpful glossary of the Thai phrases and army terminology used in the book. There are no editing problems at all so I can rate this novel 4 out of 4 stars with confidence.

The Big Buddha Bicycle Race
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Post by Reuben 92 » 23 Sep 2017, 03:49

This sounds like a good one for sure: I love it when the dialogue is true to life! And it seems very well put together, with a glossary and no editing errors. A great review! Thank you.
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Post by kandscreeley » 23 Sep 2017, 11:30

It does sound quite good. I really would change the name though. It didn't do it for me. Your review on the other hand made me think about reading this. Thanks.
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Post by Lest92 » 23 Sep 2017, 11:59

kandscreeley wrote:It does sound quite good. I really would change the name though. It didn't do it for me. Your review on the other hand made me think about reading this. Thanks.
I agree about the title - it is a mouthful and it didn't grab me much at the beginning, but I'm glad I chose it anyway.

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Post by RegularGuy3 » 23 Sep 2017, 13:04

Sounds great, and educational at the same time. Thanks for the review!

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Post by CatInTheHat » 23 Sep 2017, 16:04

This is definitely not what I think of when I think of historical fiction set during the Vietnam Era. This one sounds like a refreshing one, focusing on the positive.
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Post by Yolimari » 24 Sep 2017, 09:54

Sounds like this story has a different take on the Vietnam War and the relationship between Americans and the native people. Usually, Vietnam War's stories focus on the war and how it was fought.

Thanks for the good review!
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Post by kislany » 24 Sep 2017, 12:50

Great review! I love reading historical war-style books. I'm just reading now a book about World War II and it's fantastic as well. I'll probably pick up yours soon too.

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Post by Zelinda » 24 Sep 2017, 20:13

Your review was very engaging. The book is very timely given the current star status of "The Vietnam War" airing on PBS right now. A couple of things that struck me were your description of the protagonist as "a free thinking pacifist in GI clothing". Also, I don't know that there are any books out there about the Vietnam War that are set in Thailand, so this also interested me.
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Post by geoffrey ngoima » 29 Sep 2017, 12:13

I'd pick this one, Lest92, historical books have begun to appeal to me, great job.
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Post by Sarah Immanuel » 15 Oct 2017, 11:23

It is a nice action and fiction book. I will rate it 4 out of 4. Thanks for the review.

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Post by Kalin Adi » 22 Nov 2017, 11:39

Based on the title and cover, I wouldn't have imagined there was romance in the story. I enjoy reading romance stories. Also, it's great when the author achieves to make the reader immerse in the story with his writing style. Thanks for the review!

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Post by bookowlie » 25 Nov 2017, 10:27

I enjoyed your well-written, thorough review! The plot sounds interesting, although the title made me think the story was going to be about something completely different.
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Post by Insightsintobooks729 » 18 Dec 2017, 12:58

I liked the title of the book. While it isn't what I thought it would be about, I like historical fiction that takes place in other countries and think I would enjoy this book. Thank you fir the review.
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Post by pinklover » 26 Dec 2017, 05:42

Nice review. the book sound interesting upon reading your review. You made me convince to read this one, I will give it a try. Thanks for your fine review.

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