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Standard Deviations: Growing Up and Coming Down in the New Asia Paperback – July 2, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the Asian economic surge of the late 1980s, deputy editor of Time Asia Greenfeld leaves his New York home in search of "a big life," as he calls it, of sex, drugs and a sense of purpose. But a funny thing happens on the way to fulfillment for this Asian-American Gen-Xer: in a small city near Tokyo, he lands an English-teaching job he detests and numbs his dissatisfaction with narcotic cough syrup. On a retreat for English teachers, he awakens from a drug-induced nap in the hot baths feeling cleansed, and musters the charm to pick up an Australian woman. Romance ensues, and it seems that Asia may be good for our hero after all. Greenfeld, though, looks his gift horse in the mouth as well as every other orifice and his book rapidly becomes a down-and-outer's tour of the bleakest side of Asia, replete with transsexual Thai hookers, con-man Indian swamis and lots of heroin and temporary intimacies. Greenfeld (Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation), an excellent wordsmith, describes it all with cool precision: he's able to evoke a pristine beach, a dangerous rickshaw race or oral sex with a few direct sentences. But unlike Hunter S. Thompson or Henry Miller, he never seems to enjoy his transgressions. Ultimately, the book doesn't coalesce, despite Greenfeld's efforts to parallel his decline toward heroin addiction with the Asian economy's free fall. He offers unique glimpses into Asia and apparently frank self-revelation, but never fleshes out either theme. This title is to the reader what Asia was to Greenfeld: frequently entertaining, occasionally shocking, but a little short of substance. .
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The deputy editor of Time Asia and author of Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation, Greenfeld has written an unusual travel memoir that details his meanderings in the major cities of Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Nepal during the 1980s and 1990s. The reader is spared historical and cultural background and is instead invited to delight in adolescent descriptions of Greenfeld's sexual pursuits and self-exploration. Apparently, commentary or perceptions on the diverse Asian economic and political tapestry would have been too enlightening, so instead he is more inclined to extol the stupefying array of intoxicants, from alcohol to codeine-laced cough syrup, that he ingested to get high throughout his tour. This hedonistic, pseudo-bohemian journey could have been informative and instructive were it not so self-indulgent. An optional purchase. Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ Lib., Montreal
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (July 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812992695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812992694
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,651,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of seven books, including the novel Triburbia, the much-acclaimed memoir Boy Alone; NowTrends; China Syndrome; Standard Deviations; and Speed Tribes. Greenfeld's writing has appeared in Harper's, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O Henry Prize Stories among other publications. A veteran editor and writer for The Nation, TIME, and Sports Illustrated, Karl has also been a frequent contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, GQ, Vogue, Conde Nast Traveler, Playboy, Men's Journal, The Washington Post, Outside, Wired, Details, and Salon. Born in Kobe, Japan, Karl has lived in Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and TRIBECA.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By pineflint on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There is little doubt that Greenfeld is a talented journalist and writer, good at spinning engaging phrases and balancing details with commentary. But he's best when he's not writing about his own life, and unfortunately this book is a little too encrusted with self-referential blathering to make it as worthwhile as his much better work "Speed Tribes." Reading "Standard Deviations" felt a bit like gorging on sickly-sweet chocolate cake: there is as always a pleasantness and ease to immersing yourself in Greenfeld's writing, but the end result here is a bloated, nasty feeling.
Perhaps part of the problem is that Greenfeld, and the Asian expat scene, and indeed myself as a reader are all a bit older and a little more played out now. The sheen is off the gold lame, as it were. Greenfeld, to his credit, recognizes this and even as he struggles to come to grips with the nasty hangover that inevitably follows a youth of excess, his saving grace is that at times he is able to poke fun at his former aspirations and illusions. To some extent. But at other times, he comes across as a still bit too enraptured with his role as a minor-league Brett Eston Ellis of the Far East.
I guess that cocktail bars, hustlers and [women], Roppongi and Patpong, place-and-people name dropping and designer clothes all to be where it's at when you're in your early 20s. Then there comes a time when examining the shallowness and idiocy of it all also seems to be a worthwhile effort. Then finally the whole topic seems stale and boring. Greenfeld seems stuck uncomfortably between the latter two categories here, jammed crosswise into his 30s.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Pai on September 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
sometimes it's fun to read a book where the protagonist is [a jerk.] there's a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from loathing someone, especially if their escapades are salacious. karl taro greenfield, whose real-life adventures in asia are detailed in this memoir, is an instantly dislikeable fellow. he's a spoiled half-asian rich kid from new york whose obsession with coolness and disdain for anyone who doesn't meet his exacting standards of coolness ooze from every page. greenfield starts off the book as an english teacher in japan, but he very quickly packs in it, moving into freelance journalism and devoting himself primarily to the pursuit of sex, drugs and hedonistic travel experiences. (it's not this pursuit that makes me dislike him, as i share it to a certain extent; it's just that he's so honest about his shallowness and fixation on appearances that you can't help but be repelled.)
greenfield's last book, "speed tribes", was an excellent pop-treatment of the underbelly of japan-- speed freaks, biker gangs, etc. standard deviations is in a similar vein, but more personal. in theory greenfield travels around thailand, india, japan, etc. looking for some kind of enlightenment, but in reality (and he is at least upfront about this) his travels are an attempt to run with the cool kids-- the tribes of disaffected rich europeans who treat asia as their personal playground, jetting from raves in malaysia to the beaches of goa with disaffected ease. i am a sucker for real life stories of drugs, debauchery, sex and mayhem, and "deviations" fits the bill. definitely not your standard asia travelogue, and worth picking up if only to shake your fist periodically and go "oooh! i hate him so!"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dallas Lillich on April 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
I purchased Greenfeld's book with a professional interest in seeing how he became a freelance writer based in Tokyo and a more sordid interest in his drug and sex escapades. While Greenfeld's writing is playful and disciplined enough to occasionally reach admirable heights, it is bogged down by the author's congenital pettiness.

There are some great sentences in this book and some well-executed scenes. He writes tantalizingly about sexual encounters and expertly captures youthful anomie. The first essay, 'The Big Life', is one of the best. In it, Greenfeld provides a devastating parody of his life as an English teacher in provincial Japan. He rages against the smallness of the teachers' lives, and the satire is acerbic if a little juvenile. He is "imagining bigger things, better places, where there are, like, strippers and models and the guys from Guns N' Roses and everybody likes me and I'm not an English teacher." This is funny and, to me, a recognizable feeling. As he takes his life into his out hands and makes a run for the Big Time, the will be reader rooting for him.

Unfortunately, Greenfeld never seems to grow out of this youthful obsession with hanging out with the cool kids and sitting at the popular lunch table. The cast of characters in the book are a jet-setting group of invariably handsome twenty-somethings invariably clad in Oakleys, Gucci camoflauge t-shirts and Balinese warrior tattoos, toting Prada handbags, eating ecstasy like pez and ever in search of the next beach rave. As Greenfeld catalogs these people and their excesses, he goes to some of the most exotic destinations in the world. But he always ends up with the same self-serving people listening to the same lousy house music engaging in the same banal name-dropping.
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