Narrative essays collected into a book are a little like the predecessor to modern blogging. Robert Raymer's "Tropical Affairs", a collection of previously published non-fiction narratives about his life and times in Malaysia, almost reads like one (in a good way). Through his years of essays we learn a little about Robert's life as an American living in Malaysia for more than 20 years, sympathise with his struggles, and cheer in his successes.
Tropical Affairs collects essays from Robert's own life through relationships, work, children, and hobbies and after 20+ years in his adopted country, it's clear that Robert loves Malaysia and the people who call it home. The book is organized into a series of themed sections with a little something for everyone to relate to. Personally, I found the expatriate, writing, and "being myself" sections the most interesting, but parents and even movie fans will find entertaining and thoughtful morsels as well. Humor and candor play equal parts in Robert's writing, reflecting the complex and multicultural experience of living abroad.
However, although the essays are interesting, often entertaining, and sometimes even inspiring, I was left wanting a stronger central narrative to carry the book as a whole. I had hoped to learn a little about Malaysia through Robert's experiences, but without any prior knowledge of the region, the essays didn't lay the groundwork for me to fully understand his encounters. In addition, I found the way the essays "time traveled" back and forth through is life to be a bit jarring; especially when there were two essays written about the same exact event but not placed side-by-side.
Ultimately I found "Tropical Affairs" to be best read by simply flipping the book open and selecting a story at random. Each on its own is sweet and filled with experiences that anyone can relate to. And I like the slightly provocative title which encourages you to have a short, fun affair with each story, but maybe not a long term relationship.
Robert Raymer is also the author of (the equally provocative) Lovers and Strangers Revisited, a short story collection about Malaysia. He writes for several publications and also blogs and maintains a website at borneoexpatwriter.com.
Comment from the author, Robert Raymer:
Thanks Amanda for the review! Yes, now that I'm blogging (http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/), the non-fiction narrative style of my blog posts is the same, though I tend to treat each blog as creative non-fiction or as an article, whereby I rewrite them several times before I post, and even revise them later. Old habits die hard – time consuming but improves the quality.
For more about Malaysia, my latest book is Spirit of Malaysia (Editions Didier Millet, 2011), with 160 photographs. Here's the first review with a link to some of photos: http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2011/03/you-are-here-home-book-reviews-book.html
Also Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my award-winning collection of 17 short stories set in Malaysia, taught in several universities, is getting a translated into French. http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2011/02/lovers-and-strangers-revisited-is-being.html
Written by Amanda Potter