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Chasing Palm Trees Paperback – December 2, 2009
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About the Author
After teaching, traveling and living on four continents, RJ Furth decided it was time to jump into something he’d been longing to do for many years: write. He started a novel twenty years earlier on the Thai island of Ko Samui, and finally had a chance to complete it in Colorado where he devoted himself to writing full-time. He has eaten dog in Sumatra, been threatened by a madman in Thailand, pulled leaches off his legs in India, and been frightened by daunting heights in Peru. It is his intention to write about some of these adventures while at the same time pursuing new ones. He is currently working on his fifth novel. Many of his travel stories – fiction and nonfiction – as well as stories written by fellow world travelers can be found at rjfurth.com.
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Each of these titles present an increasing dated view of life in the tropics. No longer do we swelter beneath languid fans futilly paddling the air behind heavy teak shutters. Rarely (although not "never")do we need to cope with omnipresent mosquitoes or invading cobras. And in the Thailand of today, western clothing, fast-food, groceries and media are only as far away as the ubiquitous Mall.
"Chasing Palm Trees" turned out to be not at all what I had hoped for. Although competently written from the mechanics of writing perspective (the text is lucid and fast-paced, the plot credible if somewhat predictable, and the dialog realistic although raw), I found none of the thrill of discovery of an exotic new world, or the rush of expanded insight that truly great literature offers.
Instead, I found the story to be a sad retelling of the too-often told tale of modern societial disintegration; a pulp-fiction chronicling of the salacious excesses of a dysfuntional professional group (in this case teachers, but it could have as easily been doctors, lawyers or astronauts) couched in a barrage of crudely-handled sex and gratuituos profanity.
In what reads like a deliberate attempt to titillate, Furth crams an expose of enough character flaws, moral lapses and unfulfilled sexual fantasies to fill a lifetime into the space of a single year. In spite of this, he fails to demonstrate any particular insights into the human condition through the lenses of either western or Asian culture. Virtually all the characters come across as one-dimensional slaves to primal hedonistic urges, and while the international teaching community is particularly (and unfairly, from my perspective as a 25 year veteran of international teaching)targeted, it appears that Furth's conclusions are generalizable across the spectrum of humanity.
I bought this book to place in my HS Library as a 21st Century followup to titles like "Mai Pen Rai" and "Chasing the Dragon". After reading it, I've ordered replacement for the those titles instead. Read this book if you are a fan of quasi-pornographic bodice-rippers. Look for more meaty fair if you want to have your literary and cultural sensitivities massaged rather than pummeled.
Oh, and BTW - if you're interested in exploring the logical conclusion of the habits and attitudes espoused in "Chasing Palm Trees" - read "Mai Shangri-La" by this reviewer...