Reviewed by Dean Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77)
Ladyboy and the Volunteeris a novel masquerading as a memoir. The protagonist, Susan, describes her adventures and misadventures as a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in a rural village in Thailand in the 1990s. She gets to know many of the locals, but none is more interesting than Christine who helps support her family in the village by working as a prostitute in the city. Christine is a “ladyboy,” the term Thais use to describe transgender people born male, but dressing and living as females.
The book is written in a conversational style, allowing the reader to experience emotionally what the protagonist is living. The imagery is vividly descriptive and at times raw. Because it describes adult situations including sexual encounters and prostitution, this book is not appropriate for children.
The protagonist is portrayed as flawed, from her love of American processed cheese to the amount of alcohol she consumes.
Ms Aspley does not spare us the vivid details, whether describing Bangkok:
Bangkok is a bowl of spicy vegetable curry. Thick, chunky and hot, swimming in color.
or how to eat snails:
To suck the snail, you have to remove the operculum, which is the little flap that covers the opening, like a trap door. Then you hold the shell to your mouth and simply suck really hard. The meat will slide out in one solid chunk, and has the texture of a rubbery oyster.
The strength of the book is the imaginative and evocative language used to describe Susan’s experiences. Unfortunately, there are a number of cases in which the number of the subject and the predicate do not match. A singular article or noun is used with a plural verb, or vice versa. Like many books I’ve reviewed, this one could use a thorough proof reading after running the spell checker.
This book is worth reading for those of us who have never been to Thailand just to learn about the culture of this fascinating country. It is also valuable for it’s frank and sympathetic treatment of transgender people. Even good information about the Peace Corps is included. The book is definitely an entertaining read, and I look forward to reading more novels by this author. I’d even be happy to proof read her next book!
D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture Volunteer in El Salvador (1974-6) and Costa Rica (1976-7). A blog about his Peace Corps years is at dwjefferson.blogspot.com. He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.