cover image Borderlines


Charles Nicholl. Viking Books, $18.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82816-6

Nicholl's ( The Fruit Palace ) new book plays on words in its title as the author slips between the borders of Thailand and Burma and the real and imagined fears encountered in a richly contradictory region--a culture as deeply entrenched in prostitution and the heroin trade as in Buddhism--and explores the frontier between fiction and reportage. Based on three months of travel in Thailand and Burma during 1986, the volume takes us on the road with Harry, a French gem trader who convinced Nicholl to chaperone his Thai girlfriend in exchange for a guided tour of forest temples and other sights (``Patpong is a brief neon hymn to desire, a cacophony of come-ons''). Like sidekick Nicholl, readers never know where--or quite why--they are going until they get there, and the cast of characters is large, from ``a twelve-stone Englishman with a ruddy face and a stumpy black beard'' to women performing with chopsticks in sex shows. Regardless, Nicholl's journalism is impelled by an unfailing sense of adventure and a reporter's sixth sense for ``story.'' (Aug.)