Malee: A Tear in the Ocean, breaking with colonial dialogues
By William V. M. McAllister
Malee: A Tear in the Ocean is a tale of love and respect and the realization that different cultures have varied expectation, and that in those nuances of choice and expression lies the weight and joy of the heart: man and woman hoping for possibility of the eternal.
Yes, in Malee, beautiful women-for-pay offer their wares and in some cases our hero succumbs to their allure, but in all cases there is a respect in the telling, a care that lingers on the page, a care that is felt in the primary romance of the novel, one that is told through a balanced perspective of male and female, western and eastern, working to dispel the colonial language that has dogged many novels of Thailand. The primary love story centers not on the sex-work that so many people associate with Bangkok nights, but rather the unexpected love between a young woman from the provinces sent to work in a factory to help support her family and a wealthy western man who finds himself adrift in foreign lands, a story that highlights the challenges that love across cultures can encounter and yet endure.
Malee: A Tear in the Ocean is a book that expresses a post-colonial ethos of respect and a working towards communication, one that as scholar Robert J. C. Young so aptly describes “in terms of broad consensus, the dominance of western culture, on which much of the division between western and non-western peoples was assumed to rest in colonial times, has been dissolved into a more generous system of cultural respect and a tolerance for differences.”*
While it is these differences that characterize the struggles for our hero Michael and our heroine Malee, it is the careful attention to these cultural points of view that make Malee a vastly different book than what one might assume at first glance: here you have the western male a subject, just as you have the eastern female, but here one is not exploited by the other; rather both are deeply in love with the other, and both are entrapped in the cultures that have and continue to define their singular lives —the tension between these polar possibilities is the basis for this romantic tale of ecstasy and heartbreak.
* Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.