Moon the Night – A Novel of Laos by Stu Glauberman

Moon the Night is the surprising contemporary sequel to Hustle the East, a richly detailed historical novel about Laos.

Originally published two years ago, Hustle the East unspooled three narratives describing the political and cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s. Moon the Night is a ghost story/murder mystery set against events in 2018. The new novel follows the exploits of the three original narrators — the bumbling idealist Benny Bendit; Sangkhom, the Lao man who served Communists and Americans in times of conflict; and Chansamone, the charming and headstrong Lao woman they both loved.

Depressed after divorce and bankruptcy in Chicago, Benny returns to Laos to make a clean start, selling village-made soap for a non-profit. Repeating past missteps, Benny is living with a Lao woman he doesn’t trust. When Joyy comes home after a week away, she finds Benny dead, his body mutilated and his stomach stuffed with bamboo chips.  Eerily, a government official proclaims that the American was attacked by a female vampire ghost with backward feet.

Sangkhom, now a university lecturer called Sam, and Chansamone, an Asian-fusion chef called Chan, travel from Hawaii to investigate their friend’s mysterious death in Vientiane.

Chef Chan learns from a fisherman that Benny’s body was found floating in the Mekong River before it was attacked by a vampire. Among the suspects she identifies are his girlfriend’s knife-wielding lover; a half-crazed Corsican who thinks Benny is flirting with his ex-wife; and a Korean assassin armed with a 9 mm pistol.

Whereas Hustle the East focused on northern Laos, Moon the Night meanders through the south of Laos. In July 2018, Chan travels to Attapeu to inquire about Benny’s activity as a soap-seller. Unaware of each other’s involvement, Chan and Sam join relief and rescue efforts with unforeseen results for each of them.

Returning to Vientiane, Chan learns intriguing details from a flamboyant Lao caterer and the Coroner who filed the death-by-vampire–ghost finding in the case of Benny’s murder. Meanwhile Sam is lured to a rendezvous with a shady government agent cum wedding singer named Whisky Soda, who has laid a trap for him.

Readers who know Vientiane will recognize landmarks including the Mekong riverfront, Namphu Fountain, Kop Chai Deu and Spirit House restaurants, and the Bor Pen Nyang Bar.  

The historical novel Hustle the East, which first introduced readers to Benny Bendit and his friends and enemies, has been republished by Paulele Press, and is again available on Amazon and Kindle.

Harvest of A Quiet Eye – by Craig Stevaux


There’s a scene near the end of this poignant tale of Thailand where an erstwhile U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer finally persuades the student teacher he adores to join him at the movies. In traditional Thai culture, as practiced in the rural Northeast in 1972, a good girl does not venture out at night, especially not alone with a man, and especially not with a farang, a foreigner.

Nonetheless, here’s Orawan, a demure 20-year-old girl from the Teachers Training College, sneaking into the air-conditioned balcony of Udorn’s Amphorn Theater to be with Malcolm, the co-teacher and mentor she most respects. The so-called Sound Room with English dialogue piped in, is the special province of G.I.s with their tii-hak partners. The film is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 box-office smash “Romeo and Juliet,” salaciously advertised in Thailand as “Children Loving Each Other” and “Children Having Sex” even though Thai censors have cut out the passionate kissing and brief glimpse of Olivia Hussey’s breast.

The idealistic American teacher and the curious Thai student-teacher are Romeo and Juliet in the parched yet flood-prone Udorn in Northeast Thailand, or Issan. Her dirt-poor family, her poverty itself and her deeply held Buddhist values are the Capulets. Malcolm’s firm intention to not be like other Americans in Thailand, his desire to absorb as much Thai language and culture a farang is capable of absorbing, and his budding Buddhist nature are the Montague obstacles to this unlikely romance.

As the Bard might have said, if he’d been assigned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Udorn, “Never was a story of more woe than this of Malcolm and Orawan.” But I’m not here to speak of Love. I’m here to describe Ugly Americans in Southeast Asia.

As the American War engulfs the region – without touching Thailand – Ugly Americans are everywhere present in a two-fisted air-base town like Udorn. We find them on the sidewalks and in bars and restaurants, bowling alleys and massage parlors. They fling F-bombs and hurl curses at the locals with the utmost insensitivity, all the while escorted by perfumed and painted Thai women – bargirls, prostitutes and rent-a-wives – who are separated from their families, or perhaps supporting them financially. The American interlopers are prone to drunkenness, vomiting, and conking out on the ground.

The U.S. Air Force and the CIA’s Air America pilots are ardently employed in the prosecution of an air war against North Vietnam, America’s philosophical enemy and Laos, America’s ally, declared neutral by international agreement. As Thais go about their daily chores, eating constantly, and Thai students are engaged in mangling English, U.S. fighter jets and fighter bombers scream across the sky, and Jolly Green Giant helicopters chop through the air. It’s no secret that the Royal Thai Air Force Base at Udorn is in the thick of the fight, under American top-brass responsible for wreaking death and destruction on Thailand’s neighbors.

Nobody seems to care, other than our hero English teacher, a Belgian American from Green Bay. However his one-man antiwar campaign in the heart of darkness is meaningless, without sound or fury.

For me, the charm of Craig Stevaux’s tale lies in the lyrical recounting of how a newly arrived farang becomes accustomed to, and learns to love, the way Thais walk, talk and think, in keeping with Thai customs, culture, proverbs and the Buddhist Path.

The memoir style, the era, focus on culture and language, and the references to the Secret War in Laos all sync with the sentiment of “Hustle the East”, a novel about Laos.  Much of the action in “Hustle the East” takes place in Vientiane, about 50 miles from Udorn.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 – by Max Hastings

My comments below are based on Mark Atwood Lawrence’s review in the November 25 issue of The New York Times Book Review.

In 1964, North Vietnamese operatives were forcing South Vietnamese peasants to join the Vietcong’s struggle to topple the American-backed Republic of South Vietnam. In his epic book on the Vietnam War, the British journalist and war historian Max Hastings recounts the story of a villager whose son is being conscripted by the Vietcong. The anguished father lashes out at the Communists for calling the Imperialists evil because from what he can see, the North Vietnamese are “even worse” oppressors of South Vietnam’s people.

Isolating this little story, Professor Lawrence observes that Hastings’ view of the entirety of the Vietnam War falls along the same lines. Cruelty on one side was met with cruelty on the other in a decades-long escalation of atrocity and inhumanity.

“In his telling, it was a conflict without good guys. An appalling conflagration in which the brutality, cynicism and incompetence of the United States and its South Vietnamese ally were equaled only by the wickedness of their enemies, leaving the hapless bulk of the Vietnamese population to suffer the consequence.”

Hastings points out that U.S. forces were often effective on the battlefield but Washington failed to create a South Vietnamese state that could command the loyalty of its own people. It was as if America chose to use a flamethrower instead of an edger to trim a garden path.

I am reminded of the novel Hustle the East, where American ambassadors are espousing freedom and democracy for Laos while ordering B-52s to obliterate the Laotian countryside.

The novel’s first narrator, who arrived in Vientiane in 1973, quips: “It took me a while to figure out that in Laos, the good guys were the bad guys.

In a similar vein to what Hastings describes in neighboring Vietnam, more than 60,000 North Vietnamese troops in violation of Laotian neutrality committed atrocities in the name of liberating their Lao brothers from Imperialism. And the Americans responded with the ultimate in flamethrowers.