This May Be Heaven Or This May Be Hell

Reinventing oneself in Bangkok

Kate Lila Wheeler

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Bangkok Days: A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure
Lawrence Osborne
North Point, 2009
288 pp., $25.00 hardcover


Bangkok DaysCompare this book to the durian fruit, whose celestial flavor is enhanced, for some connoisseurs, by its gutterlike scent. “Bangkok Days” is a toast to the louche life, a tender, beautifully written travel memoir. It must be read; for even if, like a durian, you finally judge it unpalatable, it may have lead you to review comfortable moral positions. The book centers on aging white male Western expatriates finding reprieve from the burden of mortality in two-dollar generic Viagra hits and sex with willing women who also ask for money. These nowhere men—failures, fantasists all— wander the clubs of Bangkok and its streets, caressed by Lawrence Osborne’s heavenly language. Geoff Dyer’s travel writings and the detective novels of John Burdett cover some of the same territory, but Osborne is the subtler, more exquisite writer.

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