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Siam: Or the Woman Who Shot a Man (Sewanee Writers' Series) Hardcover – November 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Sewanee Writers' Series
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; First Edition edition (November 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879517239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879517236
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,765,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In Lily Tuck's Siam, the year is 1967 and 25-year-old Claire has come to Bangkok with her brand-new husband, a military advisor. When they first met, James had described Thailand as "not a bad place to live. Everyone's so friendly, everyone's always smiling. And you should see my house--hot and cold running servants, a pool, a garden..." But upon arrival in this exotic locale--which her guidebook, too, extols as the "Venice of the East"--Claire discovers dead dogs floating in the canals, green slime growing on the surface of the pool, and the natives polite but distant. The one person she feels an instant bond with is Jim Thompson, an American silk entrepreneur she encounters at a party. But immediately afterward, Thompson disappears during a trip to the Cameron Highlands, and Claire becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to him.

Siam is a work of fiction. Jim Thompson, however, was an actual person whose disappearance in Thailand has never been solved. Tuck uses this real-life mystery to illuminate her fictional characters' relationships and motivations. It's clear from the first chapter that Claire is a young woman without a solid sense of self. She is swept quite literally off her feet and into bed within hours of first meeting James, and a good deal of what happens to her from that point on seems to occur without her active participation or consent:

Several times a day Claire raised her skirt, dropped her pants. Her fingers, too, learned to unzip, to unbutton with the swiftness and skill of a lacemaker. It was not how Claire had imagined it, but there was hardly time for anything else.
Though she tries hard to be a "good guest" in Thailand, attempting to learn the language and history of her new home, she is never truly at ease among the people. Claire's fixation on the fate of a man she met only once grows in direct proportion to her feelings of loneliness and alienation. Meanwhile, America's escalating role in the Vietnam War parallels her increasing suspicion of everyone around her, even her husband--and soon the conditions are ripe for tragedy. Tuck weaves this intricate web of fact and fiction, reality and delusion, with an assured hand and prose that seems simpler than it actually is. She captures to perfection the disorientation of strangers in a strange land, the insularity of expatriate communities, and the gulf that yawns between privileged foreigners and the people they live among. Siam, then, is both a compelling drama and a profound meditation on the political and the personal. --Sheila Bright

From Publishers Weekly

Probing the futility of good intentions and the pitfalls of cultural miscommunication, this assured and absorbing third novel by Tuck (The Woman Who Walked on Water) opens on March 9, 1967, the day the U.S. starts bombing North Vietnam from bases in Thailand. Claire, a 25-year-old Boston bride, arrives in Bangkok with her husband, James, an American engineer who builds runways in Nakhon Phanom, in northeast Thailand, for the American bombers. James's weekly trips to supervise construction leave his young, conspicuously blonde wife to fend for herself, and Claire discovers almost immediately that the luxurious lifestyle James described has an unpleasant underside. The heat is unrelenting; their pool is covered with green slime; the servants wash in a sewage-filled canal; hot peppers make most food indigestible to her. Unlike the few other American wives she meets, Claire is driven to question her surroundings, but the information she garners in hours of research at the local British library, through her daily language classes and on shopping excursions around the city is even more disturbing. Snubbed by Thai acquaintances when she tries to discuss the political situation, she turns to her husband, but insensitive James treats her as little more than a sexual object. Meanwhile, Claire becomes obsessed with legendary American entrepreneur Jim Thompson, who has disappeared while on a trip to the Highlands. Though she has met him only once, Thompson typifies to Claire all the mysterious events that seem to be going on just outside her circle of understanding. As the political and cultural climate in Bangkok grows increasingly oppressive, Claire begins to lose touch with reality, and her feverish imaginings precipitate tragedy. Tuck uses words with economy, evoking the lush locale and mysterious culture of Thailand with precise details and sensory images, and effectively contrasting the crisp, arrogant attitude of the American colony with the polite if evasive conduct of the Thai population. Her vivid, unromanticized picture of Bangkok in the late '60s is a fitting backdrop for a haunting story about the end of innocence. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Janice M. Hansen on November 29, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a novel that obviously promoted strong pro and con sentiments. I found that many of the reasons that the readers were disturbed by the novel was what I liked best about it. This is certainly not a book for those that must have all their questions answered. This novel is a suggestion of Thai history, allusive, mysterious and provocative.
This is a story of a rather naive young American woman, Claire, who marries impulsively to a military contractor working out of Thailand during the Vietnam war. She must cope with a new culture, servants she distrusts and a husband that she becomes suspicious of. Yet, there is a tone of mystery, a friend they met at a dinner party disappears. Based on a real event, Jim Thompson, an American silk buisnessman disappears during a vacation. Claire becomes obsessed with his absence, along with other issues of her life that begin to unravel.
At first, her arrival prompted her to take Thai language lessons, research Thai history and culture in the local library and join a military wives weekly tour group. The plunge into Thai culture begins to take it's toll on Claire. She mistrusts the servants, and later finds items missing that she treasures. Worst, she doubts her debonair husband and fears he is having affairs with friend's wives. She takes to examining his dirty laundry for evidence of infidelity. She can't sleep and begins to drink more. She misses her home and her family. She finds the Thai food disgusting and the outside town filthy. There is a palpable tension that the author alludes to, a crisis in the making and a constant referral to the violence of the Thai past intersecting with this woman's life.
I guarantee all your questions will not be answered. The ending is allusive and disturbing.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Maggie Rogers on March 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although somewhat hard to find, this book is well worth the effort- It's an engaging piece about life in the Sixties that doesn't revolve around the American "Free Love" Era. Instead, it focuses on the tremendous influence America had in Thailand and the pathetic ignorance of the Americans who were there to "help" during this time. As Claire takes us around the Thailand she knows, she gives us a little bit of history and a LOT of first hand observations, which allow us to form our own opinions and conclusions. This isn't a mystery or a travelogue, but, instead, is a facinating look at the personal reflections and interactions of a single person who is wise enough to open her eyes and take it all in. Let the reader/listener interpret it for themselves . . . and, just maybe, be a little sad to see Claire get on the plane bound for home, with so much still to see.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I think the author deserves credit for some originality, but the book is a bore, even with the Bangkok setting. (I lived there for 2 years recently, and I often wondered what the city was like during the Vietnam War. After reading this book, I still wondered, and felt like there was little more insight in "Siam" than what one could find in a guidebook) However, it was nice to read fiction about Bangkok that didn't dwell on the seedy, commercial-sex aspects of Bangkok, which a lot of other writers fixate on, as if that's all there is to Bangkok. And what a great counterpoint to recent fiction about bratty slackers slumming in Thailand...however...
My major problem with the book is that it relies too much on outside information and is not on its own merits a compelling read. Both the main character and the writer seem to be too self-consciously aping, then revising, the myth of Anna Leonowens. I'm personally tired of hearing all cultural references to Thailand, writerly or not, filtered through the veil of "The King and I"--and I was put off by the epigraph quoting a letter King Mongkut sent to Anna L. "The King and I" may be a cultural presence in the Western imagination that anyone writing about Thailand today must contend with, but that's partly because writers keep recycling/paying homage to the myth! I read William Warren's biography of Jim Thompson awhile back, after visiting the Jim Thompson house in Thailand. His life story is indeed captivating, but the author does little to bring him to life or to dramatize the parallels between the main character's life and Jim Thompson's, or to justify the main character's obsession with his fate.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Set in Thailand in the 1960's, this haunting novel describes the struggles of a young woman to understand and adapt to Thai culture while living in the equally alien American colony in Bangkok. The narrative is dreamlike and compelling. Lily Tuck gives a vivid picture of Bangkok with all its complexities and mysteries. A thoughtful and well-crafted novel that casts new light on the American presence in Southeast Asia.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Siam" captures Bangkok, history, and an excellent personal narrative within a sharply written novel, offering more than most written these days. Lily Tuck masterfully reveals the a surreal, beautiful city of Bangkok through the character of Claire, a woman whose experiences with a new culture and a new husband provide "Siam" with a rich, vivid, intriguing story. Claire's fascination with the real-life character of Jim Thompson creates wonderful symbolism with multitudes of meaning, ranging from the personal trials of a woman in a new land to the dangerous involvement of America in Southeast Asia. Tuck's swift, elegant, evocative writing perfectly reflects a human and a city on the edge of devastation.
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