Books on Thailand

The Glass Kingdom

By Lawrence Osborne, 2020

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Her husband always used to say that farangs were the ghosts they had to endure in order to atone for their own failures.

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Book cover of The Glass Kingdom

The Glass Kingdom is a fun, fun, fun read! Ideal for ex-pats or travel lovers who are looking for a thriller set in an exotic place. In this book, it’s Bangkok on the verge of a military coup.

Sarah is fresh off the plane from America. She arrives in Bangkok for the first time alone except for a bag full of cash. She’s died her hair, changed her eye color with contact lenses, and taken on an assumed name. She rents an apartment in a swanky albeit aging high-rise in the center of Bangkok.

One morning while at the apartment complex’s pool, she meets Mali—a half-Thai half-British fellow tenant—who invites her to a gals-only weekly poker party in the complex. The poker night turns into a blast. They drink Thai liquor, smoke ganja, eat lasagna, and swap stories. If this book weren’t a thriller, these four would have become the best of friends and instead we might have had a Thelma and Louise type book where the four women seek revenge on all the white male sex tourists in Thailand.

The poker game may have been fun, but it sets off a series of mistakes based on stupid decisions and underestimations, which further lead to things getting out of control for poor Sarah.

I’m giving this book 4 or 4.5 stars for its sheer ability to let me escape for several hours in the middle of a pandemic. The setting makes you want to screw all your precautions and hop on a plane and fly to Bangkok.

I also loved the book because it had the power to manipulate my emotions and my outlook. Osborne planted a seed of paranoia in my brain that’s now telling me I need to be less trusting of other travelers and locals the next time I travel overseas. Any book that can change my thinking (for good or for bad) I respect.

Where the book loses a star is in its portrayal of Sarah. I liked her and I was rooting for her throughout the book. However, Sarah comes off as a stereotypically stupid American rather than an authentic and fully-developed character. Her motivations for illegally acquiring her bag full of cash are unclear, and frankly based on her actions in Bangkok, not believable. To pull off what she did in New York takes a methodical and devious kind of person. Yet the Sarah we see in Bangkok is careless and naïve.  

I also felt that Osborne was trying to channel Christopher Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously. Both books are centered around a group of expats set in a Southeast Asian city on the verge of a coup. Koch was perfectly able to capture the tension in the air that one would expect on the days before a coup, while Osborne just wasn’t able to fully do it. You can find my review of The Year of Living Dangerously in my books on Indonesia post.

My Favorite Books on Thailand

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About The Bamboo Traveler!

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  Travel addict and bookworm! This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore the history, heritage, and culture of Asia and beyond. On this site, you’ll find itineraries to help you plan your trip, reviews to help you make better-informed decisions, lots of history and cultural information to help make your travels more meaningful, and book recommendations to help you understand your destination more deeply.

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