The Windup Girl takes place in a alternate future Bangkok, Thailand. The world is dying due to a rash of genetic diseases that have decimated the world food supply. The only food available is via corporations who have created various disease-resistant food products. They sell to the populace for huge profits, except in one place: Thailand. Thailand has a real history of independence from foreign influences, and this still holds true in Paolo Bacigalupi’s dystopian future Bangkok. Somehow the people of Thailand have figured out a way to create their own disease-resistant foods. The corporations are determined to figure out how.
The story follows several characters, such as Anderson Lake, an American “calorie man” sent by the corporations to figure out how the Thai are developing resistant foods; Emiko, the genetically created “windup girl” who has been abandoned by her former owner in a brothel; and Jai Dee and Kanya, environmental ministry officers with their own agenda in keeping Thailand safe from farang influences (Thai slang for “white foreigner”). There are many more essential characters, almost too many to keep track of. There is one thing all characters have in common: none are very likable. Emiko, the fragile genetically created prostitute, is probably the most endearing character in the story. All others are scheming selfish bastards, or at least incredibly dense and morally obtuse.
I found the story itself a bit hard to follow. Seemingly important events are only mentioned briefly, whereas seemingly unimportant events are given three or four pages of in-depth descriptions. I was listening to this via audio, and it was hard to stay focused. It might have been easier if I had been reading print. I also want to note that the anti-cooperation/eco-terrorism political theme is prevalent and may chafe some readers.
Paolo Bacigalupi is an extraordinarily talented writer, and he certainly did his research. I have read very few authors who understand the idiosyncrasies of Thai culture. Having spent a lot of time in Thailand and around Thai people (my wife is Thai), I was very pleased to see that Bacigalupi has taken great care in incorporating this research into the story, but in the end it wasn’t enough to keep me interested. I need to identify with at least one central character in order to stay focused on the story. That may be a fault in my tastes, but it proved to be the downfall in my ability to enjoy The Windup Girl.
I had a difficult time writing this review. I gave it a DNF (Did Not Finish) not because it was bad, but because it simply wasn’t the book for me at the time I read it. I may someday finish the story, but I have too many other great reads ahead of me in the near future to struggle through it at this point. I listened to this on the audio release by Brilliance Audio. Once again Brilliance has unleashed a very high quality production. The book is read by Jonathan Davis, who was quite excellent and had the appropriate tone for the novel. There were some hard words to pronounce in English, and Mr. Davis did pretty well.