Evocative profiles of Thai young adults growing up in hard circumstances but with a hopeful future.

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LIVES OF THAI TEMPLE BOYS

A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES FROM THAILAND

Youths living at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok wrestle with the basics—cheap food, among them—in these coming-of-age stories.

In 15 autobiographical tales, Limpichart (A Man in Saffron Robes, 2013) writes of teenagers, most of them students at Bangkok colleges, who get free lodging at an unnamed temple in exchange for doing chores and maintenance work for the monks. For the temple boys, most of them from impoverished rural families who send them skimpy and irregular stipends to live on, it’s a life of austerity and persistent hustling to make ends meet. Several stories follow the travails of boys trying to get food to supplement the meager temple fare of rice with fish sauce; their various stratagems include begging, borrowing, and selling blood. Residents must guard their clothing from thieves and often pawn their meager possessions to eke out the days until the next money order arrives from home. The daily struggle for survival is a persistent, though gentle, picaresque adventure that most of the boys weather with a little help from their friends. Meanwhile, Limpichart’s alter ego/narrator engages with problems of moral responsibility, ponders his prospects—a post in the government bureaucracy is the holy grail for these students—and takes in a cast of colorful acquaintances, including a hard-luck aspiring boxer who is hopeless in the ring, a gay roommate who makes a pass at him, and a sly con man who scams food by crashing funerals and weddings. In Landau’s workmanlike translation, these winsome narratives unfold as loose-limbed, shaggy dog stories that often close with an ironic punch line and an Aesopian moral. (“A birthday is an occasion for acquiring merit by offering food to monks, not for snatching meals away from them.”) The content and conflicts are fairly tame—the stories are often used in lessons in Thai schools—but together they paint a rich profile of life and longings among young strivers. At their best, as in a tale in which the narrator returns to his hometown when his father dies, Limpichart achieves a quiet but moving emotional power.

Evocative profiles of Thai young adults growing up in hard circumstances but with a hopeful future.

Pub Date: June 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9894432-1-0

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Middle Way Multimedia & Publishing Services

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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