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Sherri Rosen Publicity,NYC-Bk Review by Fran Lewis of “Talk Thai”

Talk Thai: Adventures of a Buddhist Boy
Children need rules. These rules need to be clear-cut and easily understood to be followed. However, when one set of rules off sets and contradicts the other, what does a kid do? Imagine moving to the United States and having to become assimilated in our culture but adhere to your old traditions too. What if you were born to Thai parents and could not deviate from their ways in order to learn those of the friends you might make in America? Ira Sukrungruang had a problem He wanted to please his parents and yet fit in with the traditions of those he met while growing up in a new country during the 1980’s. It is hard enough for kids to try and please everyone all of the time. What about pleasing yourself? Trying to deal with his Buddhist heritage and the new country he lived in, Ira Sukrungruang needed to find a happy medium. Poor Ira, if he is anything like me, he is going to do his best to please both sides of his family’s cultures and what happens will definitely make you laugh. Growing up in America in the 1980’s was difficult enough but trying to fit in when you look like a geek is even harder, I should know, I was one too.

Poor Ira had a real dilemma. He wanted to honor his Thai traditions, he wanted to be a warrior and not let the kids in his first grade class bully him anymore, and he wanted to be Ricky on the program Silver Spoons. Ira wanted an identity of his own and kept trying to find one that would be him, but could not. Instead of enjoying himself and having fun he had to speak Thai, follow the customs and try and fit in with the other kids. Poor, Ira do you remind me of me in so many ways. My parents wanted me to follow the rules, the Jewish customs and traditions of my grandparents, wear what she thought was appropriate for a chubby little kid, and fit in and make friends. I can sympathize with you and what you went through on your first day of school

Ira lived in two different worlds that of a child of Thai decent and second of a young boy growing up in an American world. Two worlds and two sets of values and friends. Breaking the rules in one world would yield different consequences in the other. Remembering to speak Thai in his house was essential, forgetting would mean reciting the rules that were posted on the refrigerator until, he states, “ I graduated from college.” Sounds like my mom who made sure if I broke one I wrote them a hundred times or more. I made sure to follow them because writing them would definitely make my hand cramp. Poor Ira, perfection was the only solution to his woes. Wanting to be super strong, super powerful and who else, Superman.

Every boy tries to emulate his father and be just like him. Ira was no different. His father was somewhat of an enigma and all too often he managed to displease him and not live up to his expectations. Until Ira and his father decided to do something my father and I did together, play golf. Practicing as often as possible Ira entered many tournaments only to be disappointed in some of the results and elated with others. The one thing I was really great at was playing 18 holes of golf with my uncle and shooting golf balls with my father at the driving range. It was the only time during the week that I had him all to myself while my sister and my mom went on all of the rides, we played golf. However, like Ira’s dad expected him to adhere to the rules posted on the refrigerator and those ingrained in him at Temple, my parents expected me to do the same.

Trying to become assimilated in our culture and yet stay true to some part of his creates a conflict for Ira that is evident throughout this memoir. Ira’s mother and her best friend Aunty Sue have two goals to which they devoted their lives: the wat and Ira. Instilling in him that he is a brave warrior and wearing a tiny Buddha around his neck, Ira like many children goes off to school feeling courageous, brave and protected. But, when reality sets in Ira realizes that in order to survive he needs to find his own niche and place in both worlds.

Throughout the memoir Ira encounters many obstacles. One is his childhood nemesis Simon who enjoys putting him down and getting a rise out of him. Second is his mother who hopes Ira will learn about the world from the Monks but in reality he learns from his friends, the media and reading comic books about superheroes.

As the book draws to a close Ira’s world as he knows it begins to change. His family makeup is no longer stable and the reasons behind it will surprise the reader and bring to light many harsh realities that children and families face today. A mother who would not give up her Thai traditions, a young man torn between two worlds and a father whose acceptance and love is all he wanted. The memoir brings to light many issues many kids face today growing up in America- delusions of grandeur, standing up to bullies even in his own mind, creating a persona for his father as man who wrestles gorillas in the forest and learning the truth about a friendship that brings his whole world crashing down.

The voice of the author is heard throughout the book. As he relates stories about the humorous sleepovers with his friends, struggling with becoming a man and living two separate lives in one body.

At the end he relates a story about a prince that cannot find his way up a mountain and keeps falling until he finally opens his eyes and sees where his legs have led him Iras have finally landed on solid ground. This is a heartfelt, heartbreaking and yet humorous story teaches the reader about Thai customs, some Thai words to remember, and about a family who is really not any different than yours or mine.

What I really loved about his memoir is the way the author is speaking directly to the reader as you hear and feel his frustrations when dealing with a strict mother who believes in total adherence to the rules and respect for your elders. Well written, engaging the reader from the first page this is one memoir that should be on everyone’s must read list. To learn more about his life and his conflicts while growing up and the friendships made and lost, you have to read this memoir for yourself.

Ira Sukrungruang has definitely found his place in this world as a great author, poet, Assistant Professor and now one of my favorite authors.

I give this book: Five Gold Stars

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 at 4:12 pm and is filed under Industry News. 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.

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