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STANDARD DEVIATIONS by Karl Taro Greenfeld


Growing Up and Coming Down in the New Asia

by Karl Taro Greenfeld

Pub Date: July 9th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-50276-9
Publisher: Villard

The deputy editor of Time Asia takes an erratic tour from Tokyo to Kathmandu, following beautiful Westerners as they snort, smoke, and screw their way around various underworlds.

Although Greenfeld (Speed Tribes, 1994) tells tales of Russian pimps, Chinese princesses, and Thai prostitutes along the way, he firmly remains the protagonist in all but one of a series of narratives loosely stitched together to follow his years spent in Asia. Starting out as an English teacher in his mother’s native Japan, Greenfeld quickly ditches that uncool profession (mid-semester) in favor of the more glamorous world of journalism. His initial enthusiasm for the traveler scene is expressed with much repetition of the F-word and a bizarre adoption of British slang (“lad,” “posh,” “fellow”). Perhaps, through self-deprecation—he describes his jealousy of others who are more successful, beautiful, and hip—he is trying to convey cynicism. It doesn’t work and is more irritating than effective. Greenfeld bolsters his claim to know fashion with an endless litany of characters described by the labels on their jeans and sunglasses. Girls are either hags with TOEFL tapes, or sexual conquests, in which case we are taken through their precise proportions and proficiency at oral sex. Occasionally, a bit of journalism finds its way in and we learn about riots in Jakarta or fads in the Thai sex trade. Only in the last few stories, the best of which is “The Circuit,” do we see our callow hero disillusioned. This doesn’t necessarily make the earlier chapters easier to read, but it’s gratifying to find him irritated with carbon copies of his younger self and a relief to see him finally, as promised, “coming down.”

An exhausting journey through one man’s ego as all the drugs and girls in Asia gradually wear him out.