The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘The Strange Disappearance of Jim Thompson’ by Harold Stephens

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 14•13

Don’t let the title of the book fool you. There’s more here than just a story of the demise of the legendary silk king. Harold Stephens’ The Strange Disappearance of Jim Thompson and Stories of Other Expats in Southeast Asia (2003, ISBN 0-9642521-7-1), which originally was published in 1978 under the title Asian Portraits, is actually a compendium of stories relating to fourteen memorable expats, Thompson being the most notable. 

What’s apparent, in reading through these short anecdotal biographies, is how much the author loves people who have overcome adversity. Here at WoWasis, one of our favorite passages can be found on pages 145-146, detailing the brutal training regimen of American Samurai Jessie Takamiyama. Another fascinating portrait is that of belly dancer and serial entrepreneur Zaida Amara, with whom the author also had a love affair. Stephens’ taste for characters is catholic, and here you’ll find planters, deep sea treasure divers, hoteliers, and artists (Theo Meier, to be specific). 

And of course, there’s Thompson, who disappeared forever in 1967 while on a trip to Malaysia, and whose life has been the subject of speculation ever since. The author provides many interesting details about Thompson, enough that an intelligent reader can draw his or her conclusions regarding what probably happened to him. 

In much the same manner as Stephens’ other book of expat biographies, At Home in Asia, this one leaves the non-expat reader with a feeling of wanderlust as well as a vaguely uncomfortable notion that he or she might have done exactly what the subjects of this book did, in cashiering the staid life back home and following their dreams to Asia.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.