Summary and book reviews of Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Sightseeing

Short Stories

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Sightseeing
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2004,
    250 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2005,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

Sightseeing is a masterful new work of fiction, a collection of stories set in contemporary Thailand and written with a grace and sophistication that belie the age of its young author. These are generous, tender tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts, and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting. Rattawut Lapcharoensap offers a diverse, humorous, and deeply affectionate view of life in a small Southeast Asian country that is inevitably absorbing the waves of encroaching Westernization.

In the prizewinning opening story, "Farangs," the young son of a modest beachside motel owner commits the cardinal sin of falling for a pretty tourist, and the confrontation that ensues between the native boy and the girl's pompous American boyfriend culminates wondrously amid flying mangoes and Clint Eastwood—a pet pig—swimming out to sea. In "Sightseeing," the much-anticipated holiday of a young man about to leave for college and his loving and fiercely independent mother becomes a different kind of pilgrimage altogether when they are forced to confront the mother's impending blindness. The concluding novella, "Cockfighter," is a triumph of storytelling in which a young girl witnesses her proud father's valiant but foolhardy and drawn-out battle against the local delinquent and violent hoodlum whose family's vicious stranglehold on the villagers has passed down unchecked through generations.

Through his vivid assemblage of parents and children, natives and transients, ardent lovers and sworn enemies, Lapcharoensap dares us to look with new eyes at the circumstances that shape our views and the prejudices that form our blind spots. Gorgeous and lush, painful and candid, Sightseeing is an extraordinary reading experience, one that powerfully reveals that when it comes to how we respond to pain, anger, hurt, and love, no place is too far from home.

Farangs

This is how we count the days. June: the Germans come to the Island—football cleats, big T-shirts, thick tongues—speaking like spitting. July: the Italians, the French, the British, the Americans. The Italians like pad thai, its affinity with spaghetti. They like light fabrics, sunglasses, leather sandals. The French like plump girls, rambutans, disco music, baring their breasts. The British are here to work on their pasty complexions, their penchant for hashish. Americans are the fattest, the stingiest of the bunch. They may pretend to like pad thai or grilled prawns or the occasional curry, but twice a week they need their culinary comforts, their hamburgers and their pizzas. They're also the worst drunks. Never get too close to a drunk American. August brings the Japanese. Stay close to them. Never underestimate the power of the yen. Everything's cheap with imperial monies in hand and they're too polite to bargain. By the end of August, when the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the story 'Farangs,' the narrator is caught between his fascination with Westerners and his elders' resentment of them. To what do you attribute his interest in these farangs who inevitably disappoint him?

  2. Americans are often criticized for being ignorant and indifferent to cultures that exist beyond their own. To what extent do you believe this is true? How is this idea reflected in Lapcharoensap's stories?

  3. In 'At the Café Lovely,' the narrator is looking back on the events of his childhood with 'tardy regrets' (29). What are his regrets? What does this story say about the ways in which children deal with grief? Is Anek a good guardian to his brother? Why do you think the narrator ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

I highly recommend this exceptional collection of stories, set in contemporary Thailand, to adults and older teens. Read a complete short story for yourself at BookBrowse and decide for yourself if it's right for you.  

Media Reviews
Elle - Sara Good

Set in a contemporary Thailand that's resonant, rich, and real; the style is vivid and lush, tactile and enveloping, immersing us in an immediacy of sights and sounds. . . . The tang of pathos liberally mixed with absurdity lingers long in the air. . . . Lapcharoensap's vision is candid and wise well beyond his years. . . . He is clearly going places.

The New York Times - Darin Strauss

''Cockfighter'' displays Lapcharoensap's gift for the quick detail that catches not only his Thai milieu, but teenage life everywhere. And ''Priscilla,'' which describes gradations of poverty in the third world, is near-perfect in its lyricism, wistfulness and concision. Some recent debuts may be more consistent than Sightseeing is, but few attain its heights.

New York Post - Steve Garbarino

Four stars). The short story is not dead. But it has taken a 26-year-old, Bangkok-raised author named Rattawut Lapcharoensap to infuse moving, imaginative new blood into the literary form. . . . His prose carries an unforgettable resonance. Lapcharoensap's stories of family life—often terribly dark and tragicomic—take you to places both familiar and exotic. . . . Listen to these stories.

The Wall Street Journal - Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

Rattawut Lapcharoensap is a writer to remember. In this accomplished debut collection of short stories, Mr. Lapcharoensap displays a wicked command of language and an unerring sense of place. . . . [He] never overreaches as he charts the inevitable collisions between East and West. In his hands whimsy serves as a foil for lives invariably colored by loss, pain and disappointment.

Los Angeles Times - Mark Rozzo

[A] brilliant collection . . . . The perfect novella Cockfighter, . . . [is] a stirring coming-of-age fable, brimming, like most of Sightseeing, with sharp-clawed survival lessons.

Library Journal - Shirley N Quan

...Lapcharoensap's potential as a novelist shines through via an expanded and more complex storyline showing the depth of his characterization.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Even the title of this debut short story collection by a young Thai American writer resonates on many wavelengths as Lapcharoensap considers the significance of seeing and being seen, of tourism and exile....In each intriguing, ironic, and empathic story, Lapcharoensap tracks the unintended consequences of globalization and our strivings for self, survival, and love.

Kirkus Reviews

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer....A newcomer to watch fresh, funny, and tough.

Publishers Weekly

Young or old, male or female, all of Lapcharoensap's spirited narrators are engaging and credible. Anger, humor and longing are neatly balanced in these richly nuanced, sharply revelatory tales....this stellar debut will likely be one of the most widely reviewed and read story collections of the year.

Reader Reviews
SqueakyChu

A budding new talent!
I love this collection of stories! My favorites were "Farangs" and "Sightseeing." In "Farangs", the author describes how a young Thai man's attraction to a female American tourist (a farang or foreigner) materializes despite his mother's ...   Read More

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