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Currency by Zoe Zolbrod
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Currency

by Zoe Zolbrod

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When Piv and Robin meet, a tentative and touching bond is formed. Piv is a native of Thailand and is a small time hustler, living on the fly according to how his luck is transpiring. Robin, on the other hand, is an American backpacker who has dreams of settling in Thailand after seeing the world one stop at a time. Piv and Robin share the sights, shop and have a great time living amongst the other tourists and natives, but soon their supply of ready money begins to dwindle alarmingly. Through the-rose tinted glasses of new love, Piv and Robin begin to dream up schemes that will enable them to continue their languorous life together. One day Piv decides to take a business chance with a group of foreigners he knows. As Piv and Robin become invested in their new business opportunity, Robin becomes increasingly anxious. Why are these foreign men paying her to smuggle unmarked cartons out of the country? Has she unwittingly become involved in drug trafficking? Though Robin is unnerved with all these things, Piv is much more relaxed and seems to believe that he has no business asking questions, a fact that bothers and shames Robin and sends their relationship into a tail-spin. When Robin secretly opens one of the cartons as it is in transport, she is horrified by what she finds and begins to try to free herself from the situation. But Piv is loathe to make waves with his foreign friends, and although he doesn't plan for it to happen, he becomes an ill-used pawn in a game of international smuggling; a game that Robin can't save him from. This intricate and involving thriller, set in the exotic locale of Thailand, examines the ways in which two innocent people get caught up in a set of strange and dangerous circumstances that endanger both self and other.

As an armchair traveler, I get to experience a lot of the world through the books I read. I've read a lot about many countries in Asia but must admit that reading about Thailand was new for me. Aside from being a thriller/suspense novel, this book really could be included in the travel genre, as it is through the eyes of an American tourist that the outer reaches of Thailand are examined and magnified. Not only was this book taut with suspense, it was also the type of book that seeks to explain the delicate balance that exists between tourists and foreigners and the ways in which this balance can be disrupted or destroyed.

This book is told through the alternating viewpoints of Piv and Robin, and because of this, the story takes on sort of a double life within its pages. Piv is unassuming and naïve, and sees the foreigners as people to emulate and become close to. He carries no high scruples when it comes to his life, casually taking rest in whatever opportunity arises. He has had several short-term relationships with foreign women and laments the fact that he can't seem to find permanence and stability in these flings. When he meets Robin, avenues begin to open up for Piv, and though he recognizes this, it doesn't stop him from continuing to live his hand to mouth existence. While reading the chapters told from Piv's point of view, I came to realize that although he was an adept player in the world he lived in, Piv was an innocent at heart and the kind of person who lets life rush around him and carry him towards his next opportunity. Even his relationship with Robin seemed muted by an innocence that I can't describe properly. Piv was at once worldly, yet sheltered, and though he dreamed big, his mindset kept him forever shuffling to the beat of more powerful drummers.

Robin's personality was a stark contrast to Piv's. She wanted to roam and be free, yet she was still very tied to a foreign belief of entitlement. Falling in love with Piv gave Robin an anchor but it never really filled the hole that was constantly exposed in her soul. In her life with Piv, Robin is the composed foreign woman nonchalantly frequenting all the haunts of Thailand, but upon coming across the real danger and uncertainty that lurks into her life, Robin loses that elegant calm and becomes a frightened girl looking for escape. There was a genuineness to Robin and her emotions that really made me come to care about her, but I couldn't help but feel that at times, she didn't take her share of the responsibility in her and Piv's misadventures. It's true that Robin was pretty much at the mercy of the foreign businessmen, and knowing that allowed me to better withhold my harsh judgement of her, but at times I felt like Robin made things worse for herself by abandoning her coolness and wits.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the relationship between Robin and Piv. Both had very different ideas about their future together but this didn't stop them from having an intense and reflective relationship. Piv was not awed by Robin's foreignness, which I had expected he would be, and he didn't constantly deffer to her either. He had an unexpectedly American view of relationships, which was surprising to me, and he really fit Robin like a hand in a glove. Robin was the more needy of the two, and though she didn't have the ideas of permanence that Piv had towards the relationship, she came to rely upon him more and more as the book progressed. Robin's was a difficult situation, for she knew almost no one in Thailand and had to rely on Piv for even the most basic things.

I've deliberately remained obscure about the nature of the smuggling ring in this review because I think it's best to go into this book with limited knowledge of it. The circumstances and players were far-ranging and intriguing, and though I have read many thriller/suspense novels, this one was indeed novel and gripping. Towards the end of the book, everything begins to disintegrate and the danger that was once only a threat becomes painfully real and ominous. It was captivating to be reading this drama from both sides of the action, Robin's awareness growing into fear and dread, Piv's nonchalance and naivety creating a cocoon around him that doesn't fall away until the final pages. I think Zolbrod does amazing things with this story and its characters, bringing two very different lives together seamlessly and with gravity.

If you can't tell by now, I really enjoyed this book despite my apprehension over reading a novel in a genre I'm not crazy about. One of the things I most enjoyed was the perfect alchemy between love story and suspense novel, and I think the unusual premise of the story and the deep exploration of a cross cultural relationship will be exciting and interesting to many readers. If you're looking for a thriller that defies the usual conventions and is far from derivative, you should really give this book a try! ( )
  zibilee | Oct 11, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0982520433, Paperback)

Piv and Robin are not such an unlikely match. Piv, a small-time hustler in Thailand, and Robin, a twenty-something backpacker from the United States, have always dreamed big dreams. What begins as a traveler's affair in Sukhothai quickly intensifies, and the young lovers envision an idyllic future together, traveling the world. Their plans are thwarted in Bangkok, however, when Robin runs out of money, her credit is denied, and she may have to leave Asia and Piv behind. Desperate, Piv turns to Abu, a charismatic businessman acquaintance, for help. Thus begins Piv and Robin's foray into exotic animal smuggling. Soon they find themselves amid an international crime ring that may have even darker underworld ties stretching from Kenya to Russia. Under the scrutiny of the traffickers who employ them, with investigators hot on t heir trail and idealistic dreams unraveling fast, Piv and Robin  must face the consequences of their individual struggles for identity, as well as the cost of their mutual desires.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:47 -0400)

Piv and Robin are not such an unlikely match. Piv, a small-time hustler in Thailand, and Robin, a twenty-something backpacker from the United States, have always dreamed big dreams. What begins as a traveler's affair in Sukhothai quickly intensifies, and the young lovers envision an idyllic future together, traveling the world. Their plans are thwarted in Bangkok, however, when Robin runs out of money, her credit is denied, and she may have to leave Asia and Piv behind. Desperate, Piv turns to Abu, a charismatic businessman acquaintance, for help. Thus begins Piv and Robin's foray into exotic animal smuggling. Soon they find themselves amid an international crime ring that may have even darker underworld ties stretching from Kenya to Russia. Under the scrutiny of the traffickers who employ them, with investigators hot on t heir trail and idealistic dreams unraveling fast, Piv and Robin must face the consequences of their individual struggles for identity, as well as the cost of their mutual desires."Zoe Zolbrod's debut novel is a fantastic, sensual romp through Southeast Asia. It is a novel of nave ambition and desire. We get Piv: the street-hustling, smooth-talking Thai tourist guide who dreams of starting his own import/export business. There's Robin Miatta, an American backpacking through Asia, maxing her credit cards, unwilling to go home, searching for meaning in her own life. Falling for each other, the two take advantage of lucrative opportunities with Abu and Volcheck, both Black Market dealers of endangered animals and artifacts. What follows is a tour de force portrayal by a serious author of the realities of modern-day smuggling and those involved in these activities. Currency not only succeeds in its scope and in-depth research, but also in its fluid, energetic, and intriguing prose." --NewPages "Zoe Zolbrod's debut novel alternates between Piv's perspective and that of Robin, a young American itinerant who can't bring herself to leave Thailand even though she's long since run out of money. When the two meet and decide to go into business together, buying jewelry in Indonesia and reselling it in Thailand, it briefly seems plausible that both their business and their budding relationship will work." --Chicago Reader. "As a first novel, this book truly is amazing... [Zolbrod] gets under the skin of both the main characters--a backpacking American girl who has maxed out her credit cards, and a handsome Thai man who has learned to make a living off farang girls. What results is a love story that helps drive the thriller plot as the couples' desire for some currency drives them deeper and deeper into harm's way." --A Traveler's Library… (more)

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