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Standard Deviations: Growing Up and Coming Down in the New Asia

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“I was twenty-three and I had set off for Asia to become a writer, intrigued by lurid tales of booms, busts, drugs, sex, violence, magic. There was a wicked sorcery in Asia, in the economic profligacy of the early nineties, in the way financiers and businessmen took a rapidly wiring and developing continent and looted billions, like a titanic parlor trick converting all th “I was twenty-three and I had set off for Asia to become a writer, intrigued by lurid tales of booms, busts, drugs, sex, violence, magic. There was a wicked sorcery in Asia, in the economic profligacy of the early nineties, in the way financiers and businessmen took a rapidly wiring and developing continent and looted billions, like a titanic parlor trick converting all that wealth into abandoned office complexes and half-completed shopping malls. . . . I wanted it all—the money, the sex, the drugs. And to this day I believe that if I am honest with myself, despite all I have learned the hard way over the past decade, I would still want it all again, the fucking and the getting loaded and the scheming to get enough money to pay for that life.” In the late 1980s, not long out of college, Karl Taro Greenfeld found himself stranded in New York, a failed writer before his career had even begun. His Jewish-American father angrily cut off support; his Japanese mother suggested he go to Japan to teach English. He did, accepting a job with no more promise than he’d had before. But he stayed in Asia for the next several years, working his way through a series of journalistic posts, watching a culture erupt before his eyes and facing his own demons. Through a series of vividly imagistic stories that range from the rigidly journalistic to the deeply intimate, Standard Deviations recounts Greenfeld’s experiences—both professional and personal—during Asia’s wild ride at the end of the twentieth century. Whether drinking Japanese cough syrup to get high with other Western expatriates, visiting a free-sex ashram in Bombay, or watching a former high school pal self-destruct as an equity analyst in Jakarta, Greenfeld evokes the spirit of a continent in flux at an explosive “bubble” economy’s end—and a man confronting his own identity and aspirations. Raunchy, insightful, eloquent and moving, Standard Deviations is an uncompromising work of cultural observation and self-exploration. From the Hardcover edition.


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“I was twenty-three and I had set off for Asia to become a writer, intrigued by lurid tales of booms, busts, drugs, sex, violence, magic. There was a wicked sorcery in Asia, in the economic profligacy of the early nineties, in the way financiers and businessmen took a rapidly wiring and developing continent and looted billions, like a titanic parlor trick converting all th “I was twenty-three and I had set off for Asia to become a writer, intrigued by lurid tales of booms, busts, drugs, sex, violence, magic. There was a wicked sorcery in Asia, in the economic profligacy of the early nineties, in the way financiers and businessmen took a rapidly wiring and developing continent and looted billions, like a titanic parlor trick converting all that wealth into abandoned office complexes and half-completed shopping malls. . . . I wanted it all—the money, the sex, the drugs. And to this day I believe that if I am honest with myself, despite all I have learned the hard way over the past decade, I would still want it all again, the fucking and the getting loaded and the scheming to get enough money to pay for that life.” In the late 1980s, not long out of college, Karl Taro Greenfeld found himself stranded in New York, a failed writer before his career had even begun. His Jewish-American father angrily cut off support; his Japanese mother suggested he go to Japan to teach English. He did, accepting a job with no more promise than he’d had before. But he stayed in Asia for the next several years, working his way through a series of journalistic posts, watching a culture erupt before his eyes and facing his own demons. Through a series of vividly imagistic stories that range from the rigidly journalistic to the deeply intimate, Standard Deviations recounts Greenfeld’s experiences—both professional and personal—during Asia’s wild ride at the end of the twentieth century. Whether drinking Japanese cough syrup to get high with other Western expatriates, visiting a free-sex ashram in Bombay, or watching a former high school pal self-destruct as an equity analyst in Jakarta, Greenfeld evokes the spirit of a continent in flux at an explosive “bubble” economy’s end—and a man confronting his own identity and aspirations. Raunchy, insightful, eloquent and moving, Standard Deviations is an uncompromising work of cultural observation and self-exploration. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Standard Deviations: Growing Up and Coming Down in the New Asia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sameera Pant

    Kind of sad not a lot of people have read his work. A very gritty - maybe too gritty/obscene book on drugs and sex and everything in between in Asia. That being said, as someone who’s lived in/visited these places a lot, it’s definitely a different perspective on the culture I saw. An Asian iteration of Hunter S. Thompson and I’m here for it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Catalina

    One may think this book is stereotypical...when you think about the exotic life of Asia it come to mind: drugs, prostitution, criminality, striking differences between the unbelievable poverty of the poor and the great luxury of does being the favorites of the ruling class; but well, sometimes stereotypes are not far from the truth! Not to mention the fascination this 'easy life' has on the youth, but the final message is strong: 'you must turn you back and leave if you really want A LIFE'! One may think this book is stereotypical...when you think about the exotic life of Asia it come to mind: drugs, prostitution, criminality, striking differences between the unbelievable poverty of the poor and the great luxury of does being the favorites of the ruling class; but well, sometimes stereotypes are not far from the truth! Not to mention the fascination this 'easy life' has on the youth, but the final message is strong: 'you must turn you back and leave if you really want A LIFE'!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathanstray Stray

    Absolutely pegs certain moments and scenes in backpacker asia, 1990s and early 2000s.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amar Pai

    sometimes it's fun to read a book where the protagonist is a jerk. there's a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from loathing someone, especially if their escapades are salacious. karl taro greenfield, whose real-life adventures in asia are detailed in this memoir, is an instantly dislikeable fellow. he's a spoiled half-asian rich kid from new york whose obsession with coolness and disdain for anyone who doesn't meet his exacting standards of coolness ooze from every page. greenfield start sometimes it's fun to read a book where the protagonist is a jerk. there's a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from loathing someone, especially if their escapades are salacious. karl taro greenfield, whose real-life adventures in asia are detailed in this memoir, is an instantly dislikeable fellow. he's a spoiled half-asian rich kid from new york whose obsession with coolness and disdain for anyone who doesn't meet his exacting standards of coolness ooze from every page. greenfield starts off the book as an english teacher in japan, but he very quickly packs in it, moving into freelance journalism and devoting himself primarily to the pursuit of sex, drugs and hedonistic travel experiences. (it's not this pursuit that makes me dislike him, as i share it to a certain extent; it's just that he's so honest about his shallowness and fixation on appearances that you can't help but be repelled.) greenfield's last book, "speed tribes", was an excellent pop-treatment of the underbelly of japan-- speed freaks, biker gangs, etc. standard deviations is in a similar vein, but more personal. in theory greenfield travels around thailand, india, japan, etc. looking for some kind of enlightenment, but in reality (and he is at least upfront about this) his travels are an attempt to run with the cool kids-- the tribes of disaffected rich europeans who treat asia as their personal playground, jetting from raves in malaysia to the beaches of goa with disaffected ease. i am a sucker for real life stories of drugs, debauchery, sex and mayhem, and "deviations" fits the bill. definitely not your standard asia travelogue, and worth picking up if only to shake your fist periodically and go "oooh! i hate him so!"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Reading about the drug fuelled romp through Asia might not seem like anyone's ideal reading, but at its heart is the disaffection and hollowness that comes with it. While at the start the author does not portray himself in the best light, it is a very honest portrayal and within it we can recognise elements of our own hopes, fears and desires. Some of it is uncomfortable reading, some distateful, but the self admission of his battle with drugs and a lifestyle that encourages it garners some symp Reading about the drug fuelled romp through Asia might not seem like anyone's ideal reading, but at its heart is the disaffection and hollowness that comes with it. While at the start the author does not portray himself in the best light, it is a very honest portrayal and within it we can recognise elements of our own hopes, fears and desires. Some of it is uncomfortable reading, some distateful, but the self admission of his battle with drugs and a lifestyle that encourages it garners some sympathy and the change within himself as the book progresses is totally redeeming. It is a very well written, anecdotal account of his own and others lives in the 80s and 90s when Asia was booming and drifting that circuit was what it was all about. I am now very keen to continue reading more of his work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jason Sta. Maria

    I've only wasted my time reading this book! It was just about a crap story about taking drugs, prostitution and a culture shock in a Southeast Asian countries. I've only wasted my time reading this book! It was just about a crap story about taking drugs, prostitution and a culture shock in a Southeast Asian countries.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Aujla

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jakob Greenfeld

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aron

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Tay

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  17. 5 out of 5

    Guy Buckles

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

  19. 5 out of 5

    Candice Ottaviani

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Chang

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chaz Worthy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alfred

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

  25. 4 out of 5

    PopMythology.com

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stefano

  29. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Brazil

  30. 5 out of 5

    Paolo Jose

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