Windup Girl Day, the shittiest theme day ever, continues apace with jhameia's review from back in February. SPOILER: Not positive.
Her review is quite in-depth, so I’m loth to excerpt, but this is Tumblr so here goes:
The book was ambivalent for me by this time, but the introduction of the titular character, Emiko the Windup Girl, was horrendous, cringe-inducing, and it would have been really nice to have read a review beforehand which gave me a TRIGGER WARNING. Made in Japan (really? Japan? Ya don’t say), unsuited for this equatorial climate and sexually abused for her exotic Other-ness, Emiko’s arc is supposed to give us some indepth introspection into the state of a character who must overcome everything that is instinctual in herself, built into her genes, in order to gain mastery of herself.
If this concept wasn’t so real, so close to the reality of so many women all over the world, it would still be yawn-worthy, as the idea of a woman overcoming her upbringing, eventually snapping and reacting violently against her sexual abuse is extremely overdone and not just an android thing. As a woman, I am huffy that this cheap route was taken, and not just a little frustrated that once again, a female titular character is subjected to the sexual abuse narrative as the Worst Thing To Happen To Her. As an Asian, I am infuriated that Bacigalupi chose Thailand, already reputed for its sex tourism industry, to portray the abuse of a female character. Realism aside, do we assume that this happens nowhere else? Would the story have been different if it had happened in an European country? But no, it has to be Thailand, because shit like this is normal in Thailand, amrite?
Because this book was recommended to me by Mike Perchon on the account that it is set in Thailand, and I am South East Asian by birth and upbringing, I suppose I should comment on the authenticity of whether it fits descriptions of 19th century Thailand. Without a couple of very important clues, I would never have guessed this was set anywhere near that century, because Thailand is not all that familiar to me, and it is such a dystopian in this story, what little I do know is barely recognizable to me. The first is that there is still a monarchy in place in this novel. The second is that the neighbouring country, Malaysia, is still called Malaya. Other than that, I’m actually not sure what the hell is going on there, historically, because the entire geography of the world has also been reshaped – the US and many European countries are under water, as well as much of the rest of Asia. With such a catastrophe (the cause of which is never named, but we’ll blame it on global warming and use of too much natural fuel), it is impossible to get a grasp on the international politics of the time, aside from the corporations that ply their trade with genes. This means that even without armies, imperialism is still imminent.
The lack of justification for changing the geographical landscape notwithstanding, it would have been nice if Bacigalupi had paid some tribute to the actual history of what had really happened, and segued with that, as opposed to jumping straight in with his fabricated Thailand and Malaya. It implies that there is no reason to explore why Malaya has degenerated into what appears to be xenophobic fundamentalism, when for centuries, we’ve been known to be one of the most open ports for foreigners and ethnic groups have co-existed. Not only that, but Thailand’s vibrant culture is ignored in favour of a purely gritty depiction, in which corruption and poverty is tantamount.
I know this makes for an awesome story, but I hate it when authours do that to the culture they are writing whilst not belonging to it. It is one thing to do it for a dominant country like Britain or America, because there will be many, many positive depictions of them to compensate for other purely negative depictions. Thailand does not get much exposure by way of literature, and most of it either show how exotic it is, Other-ing the country. This is where the setting fails to engage me.