Tsunami

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Tsunami by Anatoly Kurchatkin, translated by Arch Tait.

Moscow’s Red Square and Bangkok’s Imperial Queen’s Park wouldn’t seem to have much in common but for the main characters in Anatoly Kurchatkin’s enjoyable and fascinating novel Tsunami, translated by Arch Tait from the original Russian, there is much that unites these disparate locales.

Early in the story, the Russian protagonist Radislav and his female companion at that moment, a child of the Soviet-era aristocracy, are walking past one of Bangkok’s royal parks when they chance upon a group of people practicing a “ballet of a kind he had never seen before.” Radislav admits to his friend Nellie, “I don’t feel I’m in a faraway foreign country. I feel this is where I belong.” The response is quick:

“Of course you do,” Nellie replied briskly. “We are an imperial people. Citizens of the former Soviet Union. For us Asian faces are part of our family. The whole world is our home. I’m speaking from experience. It doesn’t matter where you travel, everywhere feels like home.”

Kurchatkin’s entertaining use of dialogue both keeps the story moving along and imbues an additional psychological depth to the musings of the Russian and Thai characters. The reader might be reminded of other great Russian writers who centered philosophical insights not in the actions or events of the plot, but in the mouths of the characters themselves. The more vocal the characters are, the more wisdom there is to be gleaned from their chatty interactions. Sometimes these discussions are on heavier topics, while other dialogue is more lighthearted.

For example, in one scene, Radislav and Nellie are being chaperoned by their Thai friend Tony, when Tony learns of a lovers’ spat between the two Russians:

“Ah, I expect Rad just doesn’t like the fact that I’m European,” Nellie responded.
Tony, taking his hands off the wheel, and turning to face her periodically, protested.
“No, Nellie, you are not European. I would say you are a Thai woman. You only look European, but inside you are Thai.”
“Well, in that case Rad doesn’t like the fact that I’m a Thai,” she persisted.
Tony’s unfailing smile showed signs of reproach.
“Rad, what you have done to Nellie?” he asked. “I think you have made her sad.”
Rad was left with no option but to respond.
“Nellie is a Russian woman, Tony, and a Russian woman is probably a mixture of European and Thai. It is a dangerous mixture.” He had wanted to say “explosive” but did not know the word in English.

The above quotations also highlight one of the leitmotifs of this story. The protagonist Radislav hints at… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review of Tsuami by Anatoly Kurchatkin originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of Thai memorial stamps of 2014 Tsunami for this re-post goes to Mark Jochim and his A Stamp A Day blog. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Trivialities About Me and Myself

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Yeng Pway Ngon’s Trivialities About Me and Myself

Outsider views of Singapore suffer from numerous preconceptions and generalizations, many the result of sometimes humorous foreign venting in online forums about the city-state’s overweening legal apparatus and legal codes. Yet Singapore is affluent and materially developed by any measure.

Nor is Singapore widely known as a place of literature, but that is at least in part because much of the city’s life lies behind language barriers. This perception is exacerbated by a national campaign, promoted by the city to advertise its strength as a destination for foreign investment rather than a cultural hub.

The novel Trivialities About Me and Myself by Yeng Pway Ngon does two things splendidly to disabuse these notions. First, the novel is a much-needed corrective to the usual stereotypes. The author, a winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and the Southeast Asian Writers Award as well as a prolific poetic, utilizes his work to critique the technocratic veneer of the island nation.

Second, the book employs a theme of the human condition as it intersects with modernity. Big words often used to describe Singapore’s experience of modernity—industrialization, modernization, legalization, and now financialization—do not tell us much about the personal level. Rather, this novel is about one man’s struggle with a breakneck world of change. Though the color is local, the story is global.

The author’s interpretation of the Singaporean dilemma is funneled through the protagonist Ah-hui and his struggle with the ‘Self’. This Self is a voice in Ah-hui’s head that represents one aspect of his ego. Ah-hui speaks to the Self, as if the Self were a separate being. Ah-hui and the Self argue and disagree. Sometimes Ah-hui is the victor. In these instances, an ethic of material profit and consumption wins. Sometimes the Self is the champion. This is meant to represent traditional values. In Ah-hui’s case, the Self will often prefer the exegesis of classical Chinese literature or the righteousness found in the defense of those who have been left behind in Singapore’s expanding economy.

The confrontation between Ah-hui and the Self is reflected on two levels. In as much as the Singaporean city-state moves away from Confucianism, so too does Ah-hui… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; watercolor image credit for this re-post goes to Khor Seow Hooi at The Colours of Heritage. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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He Runs the Moon

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Wendy Brandmark’s He Runs the Moon: Tales from the Cities

Sometimes the setting of stories, the barrios and backstreets and weighty avenues of childhood remembrances, prove to be as powerful to the narrative as the protagonists themselves. He Runs The Moon: Tales From The Cities by Wendy Brandmark vibrates with an urban milieu that can be both inviting and at times meaningfully oppressive. The tales here, which flitter from Denver, Colorado, to the Bronx, New York, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, are compiled together in a highly recommended collection of short stories.

All characters sharpen their speech, experiences, and epiphanies against this metropolitan whetstone.

Witnessing how the city-body becomes an agent in its own right is pleasantly hypnotizing. In the first part of seven stories set in Denver, ‘My Red Mustang’ captures this sentiment of city-as-agent well, as the female protagonist frets over what to do with an attractive-yet-unwanted automobile beyond its time, whilst street upon street of Denver comes alive to keep her vehicle in motion for just one more traffic light. This is more than just atmospheric indulgence. These kernels of urban truth dazzle in their own way as much as they hold the logic of the plot together. ‘Irony’, another story from this initial set, as well as having one of the more humourous plotlines, also works with the city of Denver as the main character struggles with some of the sodden truths of sexual iniquity.

Many of the stories in this collection were… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Sabatoge Reviews by T. F. Rhoden; image credit for this re-post goes to Robert Cash via Wikipedia. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Review of Texaners by Jessica Gregory

Review

Reviewed by Jessica Gregory at Sabatoge Reviews for T. F. Rhoden’s Texaners: Eight Short Stories.

‘…those perfectly imperfect souls of expansive, yet common diversity.’
Texaners

What comes to mind when thinking of Texas? What stands out from the jumble of imagery that us non-Texans have subconsciously absorbed from various transmitters? Some montage of the following, I would say: the lonely ranches in the desert with their clanking windmills; the Rio Grande; cowboys silhouetted by the red setting sun; Country and Western music; the Dallas theme-tune; gun-toting, shooting, Second Amendment espousing Republicans; George W Bush; oil fields; all wrapped up in the sweltering Texan heat. And in light of this, this reviewer can readily understand Rhoden’s compulsion to attempt to debunk these stereotypes. As Rhoden himself says:

These stories are about new Texans—new Texaners. These children of the new Texas have no idea, no connection aside from locale, of that Texas of yesteryear.

Instead of cowboys Rhoden is exploring suburban, city, Texan life, particularly from the perspective of those that don’t find themselves apart of the Texan stereotype – the students, the immigrants, the multiracial, the liberal, the artists, among others. Rhoden has cited James Joyce’s Dubliners as a source of inspiration for this collection, and so he has set the bar high when attempting to emulate Joyce’s exploration of place-based identity.

Texaners consists of eight short stories. From the outset we are cast into a world far… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review originally published in Sabatoge Reviews by Jessica Gregory; image credit for this re-post via City-Data. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Texaners: Eight Short Stories

A new book for all of you bored with the normal Texas stereotype!

Texaners: Eight Short Stories can be purchased through normal book distributors, including Amazon.

Description

None of us wishes to abandon stereotypes if we don’t have to. Their utility is unquestionable. Yet, this anthology cares little about all of that. Occasionally, the sensation of sheepishness often associated with a change in one’s understanding of a place or a time is well worth the trial in self-reflection. This is, of course, occasionally. The Irish apostate James Joyce succeeded in secularizing the term “epiphany” for literature.

The book in your hands now, entitled Texaners, borrows unabashedly from Joyce’s insight. Texaners is, naturally, inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners. Impish errors aside, why else bother really? Earlier versions of some of these stories have appeared in literary magazines. “Oils” appeared in The Monarch Review and Status Hat. “The Gulf” appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Journal. “Drywall” appeared in Microstory a Week. “Airfare” appeared in Weirdyear. “Rooftop” appeared in Black Heart Magazine. The stories “Chinese Spoons”, “The Bat Mitzvah”, and “W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd” are new to this collection.

Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Etoile Solitaire Press (2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0692512748
ISBN-13: 978-0692512746
Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 x 7.8 inches
Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces

TEXANERS, rhoden (front cover only)

TEXANERS, rhoden (back cover only)

*Original paperback and ebook copyright held by T. F. Rhoden. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Rooftop

A short story…

The Nigerian study-abroad student sat facing her laptop, somewhat hypnotized by the cursor’s blinking metronome. Beginning an essay was always the most difficult step, she thought.

Outside her shared dorm room, down the hallway, a coed screamed playfully. Nkoyo turned away from the blank document toward the shut door. Maybe she would be able to concentrate better if she got away from the dormitory? But she knew that would only be an excuse; she was procrastinating. Another boisterous cry from somewhere in the corridor, however, finally convinced her otherwise.

Closing her notebook, she deposited the device and the three Chinua Achebe novels that her paper was supposed to critique into her Texas Tech backpack. Nkoyo entered the hallway and walked towards the lift.

The elevator carried her to the top floor where she exited. To get to the rooftop though, one had to forego the lift and walk the last flight of unadorned stairs. No students were allowed on the roof, but Nkoyo guessed no one would be out monitoring. No one would fret about a lonely female literature major salting herself away for the afternoon on an unused rooftop.

An autumn zephyr welcomed her immediately as she stepped out onto the barren rooftop of the twelve-story high structure. She unfurled the arms of her red hoodie to block the wind. Nkoyo quickly found her normal writing spot near the building’s industrial-sized air ducts. Comfortable, she removed her books and laptop. Another gust of wind blew westerly, rustling the highlighted pages of the topmost stack of used books.

She picked up her copy of Things Fall Apart and thumbed through the pages listlessly, blankly until she came to last page with Achebe’s black-and-white portrait.

Nkoyo sighed.

Admitting that she thought Achebe’s prose not worth analyzing in depth had surprised her professor. The frail lecturer could not understand why… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Black Heart Magazine by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit for re-post via Texas Tech. Rooftop is now part of the Texaners short story collection. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Thailand Inspires Alumnus to Write Books

Story by Andy Arb from The Journal of Webster University on T. F. Rhoden’s first literary venture in The Village.

When the University of Maryland University College decided to close its international campus in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany in 2001, Thomas Rhoden had to find a new school to attend. Rhoden liked the international campus location options of Webster University, and settled at the Thailand campus. This is where he got his inspiration for his four books, including his novel, “The Village.”

“What I wanted to do with the book was capture what life was really like in the village in modern day Southeast Asia,” Rhoden said.

Rhoden, also known as T.F. Rhoden, his pen name, is originally from Dallas. After graduating from Webster University-Thailand in 2003, he moved to China before moving before moving back to Thailand when he joined the Peace Corps. Rhoden left Thailand again, but returned after he went to Arizona to earn his MBA.

Rhoden spent seven years off and on living in Thailan, so he knew the state of small communities in Southeast Asia, and wanted to clear up any misconceptions people might have.

“A lot of what you might read from… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in The Journal of Webster University by Andy Arb; photo credits for this re-post via by Tom at Isan Life. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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