Tze-Wen's Reviews > The Festival of Earthly Delights

The Festival of Earthly Delights by Matt Dojny
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Sep 17, 2014

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bookshelves: owned, 2012, ebooks, travel
Read from July 09 to 12, 2012

Puchai, Puchai... you remind me so much of Thailand (and Taiwan) when I last visited 13 years ago. You make me feel old and a little nostalgic. Not the best state of mind to start a book with. Nor did the persistant freezing of my fickle e-reader help lighten the mood. I was about to throw in the towel when, on top of that, it started showing a much larger number of pages than I had bargained for, displaying an apparently randomised number between 600-800, depending on the font size and the mood the e-reader was in. So there you have it, Matt Dojny, your book and I definitely got off on the wrong foot.
That aside, the cover is simply gorgeous, and even more hand-drawn illustrations are scattered throughout the book. Admittedly, I bought this e-book on a whim after hastily scanning the accompanying blurb, so I was not quite prepared for a whirlwind of a novel with more punchlines than you can shake a stick at... nor an intimate tête-à-tête with the "moths" in Boyd's stomach.

Pêt food ("delicious" food, not for pets)
I really liked the assortment of exotic foods and beverages that were featured in the book. The banana-flavoured rice wine and gin & tamarind soda drink are definitely something I would try. On the other hand, Ur-ur-ur, which I imagine smells and tastes like fermented durian, is a drink I'd politely decline. As for the Malchak-made fae-dong, even after finding out what they're made of, it remains nevertheless enticing:

"It was crunchy on the outside, with a moist center that tasted like walnuts and garlic, but also like French Fries and mint."

As a vegetarian, I would steer clear of the potency-enhancing "Pleasurely Beast", a dish made of freshly slaughtered and minced beef, mixed with chilies and spices. Fortunately, one can always opt for a bowl of ramen noodles.

Home Kwan Home No. 3
From the start, The Festival of Earthly Delights promises to be a fun read. The title refers to the whole reason for Boyd and Ulla to be in Puchai. She has been hired by the Mai Mor College's Faculty of Theatre Drama to help organise the talent show that is part of the annual festival. The festive event in question hints at unrestricted debauchery taking place in a psychedelic daze.

Or to quote Mr. Horse:

"Festival Day of enjoy the pleasant feeling of this saddest world by being drunken, and kissing the neighbor, and become carried away with dancing to traditional music, before you become dead and do not have body for enjoying".

Evidently, only the toga's are missing in this picture. As for Boyd, his attempts to hold on to an English teaching job at Y.E.S. meet with dubious results, not unlike his endeavors to resuscitate his dying relationship with Ulla. Life in Puchai (Dojny's fever-dream memory-version of Thailand) turns out to be a roller coaster ride without a safety belt, full of strange customs and embarrassing confrontations. Instead of making things easier for him, his new band of Puchanese and Malchak acquaintances only add to his complications. There's an awkward dinner party with disastrous results, a hippie and a White Sikh chasing a girl, garengs smelling of hot dog, philosophical musings on Malchak music, the curse of the holy turtle, dogs not quite called Judy, eerie sounds in the night at Home Kwan Home No. 3, and much more besides.

Puchai may be a non-existent country, the author did put in a lot of imagination and effort in breathing life into it. The Festival of Earthly Delights is not meant for those without a sense of humour, nor lack of an adventurous spirit. There were certainly moments when I wondered whether I was the wrong audience for the book, and this particularly applies to the squat toilet scene, the partial list of winks and their meanings, and the many different turtle curses. Fortunately, these were offset by myriad situations that I found hilarious and entertaining. All in all, quite good travel fiction on a rainy summer's day.
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Reading Progress

6.0% "An American on-off couple in a fictional South Asian country. Hmm..."
15.0% "Too much parody. Get to the point already. Why are there so many pages in this book?"
30.0% "Right. All that talk about poo is a bit off-putting. Yes, I got the jokes, all of them, but when will this parody finally be replaced by something more serious?"
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