Land of the Tuk-Tuk
by Henry Pelifian (Thailand 1975-77)
Reviewed by Robert Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965-67)
Henry Pelifian’s Land of the Tuk-Tuk is a compilation of several different stories sharing the same book cover. These include:
1. the partial story of the fictional protagonist Jack Dakasian, Peace Corps Volunteer teacher in Bangkok, Thailand;
2. the love story of Jack and his former student Amara Worathai, and Jack’s determination later to woo and marry her;
3. the story of Jack in Isfahan, Iran, teaching helicopter repair in English to Iranian military mechanics in, it appears, 1979, and just prior to the revolution which swept the Shah from power and the return of the Muslim cleric Ali Khomeni;
4. the story of the Armenian genocide and other atrocities inflicted upon Jack’s family in Turkey in the early 20th century and their migration to the U.S.;
5. Jack’s outrage at the cruelty, injustice, inhumanity, and corruption evident to him throughout human history, all of which afflict ordinary good and kind people who lack the power to protect themselves and change the world;
6. the story of the Khmer Rouge genocide against its own Cambodian people;
7. the story of Cambodian refugees who flee to refugee camps in Thailand;
8. the story of Jack working in the refugee relief program featuring corruption and inefficiency, and U.S. and United Nations junkets taken by politicians and bureaucrats interested in travel, food, and shopping but not stewardship of the tax dollars which fund them and the international programs they direct;
9. the story of the King of Thailand, the military, and repeated coup and counter-coup history;
10. the conflict between a greedy corrupt log-cutting Thai businessman and a village, led by a Buddhist monk, dependent upon the forest for pharmacological, medicinal, and culinary needs, who protest the loss of “their forest;” and,
11. the importance of Buddhism in shaping the culture of Thailand.
Each one of these eleven themes-and there may be others-could be the study of a stand-alone short story. One might also add a short story about samlors or “tuk-tuks” which, curiously, do not play a critical role in this book despite the title. With the necessary polishing which a second draft, an editor, and a copy-editor could supply, it might be possible to combine and integrate the stories above but unfortunately the current book under review is disjointed in that Pelifian abruptly shifts from one subject to another in an almost stream-of-consciousness way so that the reader is distracted. The eleven worthy themes are not integrated, the potential for a more forceful story unsatisfied.
Following the Table of Contents, the book could benefit from a Preface. The author has an interesting CV as it includes both military and Peace Corps service. The Preface, plus an Acknowledgments page, would help to explain the context for his writing of the novel and why, from this reviewer’s perspective, he chose not to write a work of non-fiction, which might have been even more appealing to readers, given the Armenian family history he references. But, perhaps, this is his next book.
Robert E. Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965-67) consults on medical and educational projects to Africa from Portland, Oregon. He is the author most recently of the novel Dr. Dark.