Currency by Zoe Zolbrod

Although we’d been planning to take a trip to the States this summer, we were a little shocked at the cost of tickets during peak season (the only time we are all able to travel, due to work and school). We decided to put off our trip, so instead of hopping on a plane, I’ve been diving into novels set in other countries, such as Currency, Zoe Zolbrod’s auspicious debut. 

One often hears about males who engage in sex tourism – men from wealthy countries go to Thailand, for example, with the intention of getting laid. Some men basicallly hire “girlfriends” for the duration of their stay, and then leave them behind when they go home. One hears less often about women who go abroad to get laid. Perhaps many assume that since all men are happy to get laid as often as possible anyway, it’s hardly unethical for women from wealthy countries to enjoy their bodies for a night or two or even for a few weeks. These women are just getting their groove back, and it’s all good, right? But what if one of these men had feelings? What if he actually felt a little bit bad about being used by foreign women, however attractive, to enhance their Thai experiences?  Such a man is our part-time narrator Piv, a good-natured, breathtakingly attractive Thai hustler who uses his English skills to make money guiding foreigners around, while dreaming of something bigger.

Piv meets Robin, a naive young American woman who’s been backpacking around Southeast Asia. She’s run out of money, maxed out her credit cards, and when she calls her parents asking for a cash infusion or a ticket home, she is denied. I can imagine what it’s like to be Robin. I remember being broke in a foreign country at the age of 19, like that time when I miscalculated the number of zeros on the Italian lira. Luckily my parents were always willing to wire a little extra money, and I didn’t have the temptation of a credit card.

Robin, however, is desperate. Not only is she totally broke, but also her visa is about to expire. She needs to make a little trip out of the country to renew her visa so that she can return to Piv, the Thai guy that she has fallen for. To her credit, Robin is serious about Piv. Piv wants to “make something” with her, and the feeling is mutual. They have some ideas about import-export, maybe a jewelry business, and they envision a future together.

Piv introduces Robin to a Kenyan businessman, who has suggested that he might be able to offer the two of them an opportunity to make some money. They just have to pick up some cargo at the airport and deliver it to someone else. As long as it’s not drugs, Robin thinks that maybe it’s okay. But the cargo turns out to be wild animals and parts thereof. The Kenyan turns out to be a wanted criminal with dangerous associates. As Piv and Robin become more deeply entangled in this scheme, they begin to have doubts about one another. Does Piv really love Robin, or is he just using her as a mule? Does Robin really love Piv, or is she indeed another one of those vacation girls who want a brief dalliance with a beautiful Southeast Asian boytoy?

Zoe Zolbrod, a former backpacker with bona fides, has crafted an unusual and exciting drama. Although I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation in English with a Thai guy, Piv’s voice, as rendered by Zolbrod, struck me as authentic. Also, he’s an extremely likable character. Additionally, Zolbrod is very good at sketching the nuances of a cross-cultural relationship.

This novel is the first in the Morgan Street International Novel Series. I can’t wait to see what’s next!


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