Friday, April 22, 2011

John Burdett

John Burdett is a nonpracticing lawyer who worked in Hong Kong for a British firm until he found his true vocation as a writer. He has also lived in France, Spain, and Thailand. He is the author of A Personal History of Thirst, The Last Six Million Seconds, Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts and  The Godfather of Kathmandu.

From his Q & A with Amy Myers at Shots ezine:

Q. Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, who is the driving force of these novels, is memorable for far more than his powers of detection. He’s half-Asian, half Westerner, he treads the thin line between the law and crime with dexterity and juggles his career path with his spiritual Buddhist journey to the Far Shore. Was his original conception in your mind solely as a detective, from which his character then developed, or did you plan him as such a divided character at his conception?

A. I did not plan him at all. I think his Eurasian genes plus his mastery of the cultures of both East and West make him vulnerable to a kind of schizophrenia. It is not so much that he does not know who he is, but rather he could be almost anyone, depending on what language and culture he happens to be in at any particular moment.

Q. The most striking aspect of this novel for me is the way you have presented Thai life as an overall picture, so that its crime, sex and drugs aspects become an accepted part of everyday life, rather than separated as part of an underworld. You live in Bangkok, so did the novels follow from your life there, or did you move there after your novels and research made it irresistible?

A. I wanted to live in Thailand from the first visit in 1986. This was purely a consequence of Thai charm, however, since I knew almost nothing about the country until I came to live here in 2001. I had not lived full-time in a developing country before. I had no idea the extent to which the economy of the poor blends with the underworld in a land without social security. Also, the importance of the black economy is much more obvious in a developing country. In fact, a huge proportion of the funds sloshing around the world derive from the illegal drug industry, but in the West this reality is hardly referred to. If estimates are correct that one third of the world’s wealth is black money, then in reality there is hardly a large building project on earth that does not make use of funds which are tainted to some extent.

Q. You’ve given Sonchai a Western absentee father, and a Thai upbringing with his prostitute mother. Over the years Sonchai has developed a Western side, both in his likes (he’s an American thriller-buff, for example) and in his career (such as his relationship with Kimberley Jones). Tietsin, his guru, is the ‘Godfather’ of Kathmandu. Did you plan it this way because it opened up opportunities for Sonchai to see Asian life both as an outsider and as a native, or because it enabled Sonchai to bridge the divide between West and East for your readers?

A. From the start Sonchai...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu.

--Marshal Zeringue