Thursday, October 13, 2011
EATING SMOKE by Chris Thrall
An ex-marine moves to Hong Kong to find his fortune, but finds crystal meth and the triad-run clubs of Wan Chai instead.
I've been looking forward to this book since I first noticed it on the Blacksmith Books website, and I was not disappointed. Chris Thrall's memoir of the year he spent descending into drug-induced psychosis in the Hong Kong underbelly is a must-read for people who are interested in Hong Kong. He works as a bouncer for a series of nightclubs, slowly realizing that triads are in charge of everything. Thrall captures the energy and possibilities of Hong Kong even as he exposes its seedy, dangerous side.
As a narrator, Thrall is likable and honest. He makes friends with everyone, whether or not they happen to speak English. He makes an effort to learn Cantonese and understand the culture, something that a surprising number of expats don't do. He meets a motley collection of expats and locals in Hong Kong, and he shows their characters through lively anecdotes and observations. His friends remind me of the diverse personalities I have encountered here in the last year.
Thrall's writing style is active and approachable, and he relates his experiences with a lot of detail. I haven't read that many addiction memoirs, but Thrall does not wallow in the low points of this story. As he becomes increasingly paranoid and disconnected with reality, he writes with a curious, almost bemused tone. This allows a story that could be very dark to be accessible and enlightening. This is a well-crafted picture of the gangster-run nightclubs, revealing a side of Hong Kong that I have not experienced with fascinating clarity.
Chris Thrall's website and blog
Here's my walking tour of Wan Chai, in which I explore the area that is the backdrop for this book.
I paid 138 Hong Kong dollars for the paperback. It is listed on Amazon for $12 US. There is currently no ebook version.
What makes a narrator likable? Do you have to like the narrator in order to like a memoir?