The Way of the Word

16. September 2010

Review: James M. Turner – Beyond the Comfort Zone

Originally published in 2009.

Beyond the Comfort Zone is James Turner’s autobiographical account of his retirement in Thailand. After a successful career as a musician, he retires to Thailand in 2002. He learns to love the people and the life. That life changes, however, when he meets Franco, another expat. Franco reawakens Jim’s dark side, the side that craves adventure and considers taking risks fun, and together they share several such adventures. When Franco gets his hands on a “spy-camera,” risk and fun cross the line into real danger: the two friends decide to boldly go… into Burma, making contact with people who sell children into prostitution and slavery.  Deeply disturbed by what they have seen, they seize the chance to do something for these children and entrap one of the men who traffick in children.

One thing that you should not expect from this book: a perfectly polished narrative. Beyond the Comfort Zone is Turner’s first book. The writing is a bit crude, it is very rough about the edges, just as its writer presents himself to be. It is, however, authentic: the very roughness transports the reader into the world Turner describes. The reader experiences, feels Thailand through Turner’s eyes. We meet his friends through his eyes, and he does a good enough job presenting them that by the end of this story, the reader cares as much about Franco and Nok as Turner does.

Throughout this real-life adventure story, Turner never presents himself or Franco as larger-than-life action heroes. They are just two guys who did something risky for the fun of it, something that escalated almost inevitably beyond the titular comfort zone. It is precisely because Turner knows that they were in a situation beyond their ability to control that the danger they were in becomes as real for the reader as Turner and Franco experienced it. Will “Franco’s contact,” who is never named (and therefore remains a faceless representation of the trafficking) get away, or harm either of our two main characters? (There were actually moments where I was concerned that Franco might not get out of this alive — yes, really concerned for someone who I felt I might not even like if I met him in person.)

The sad thing about all this is that Turner knows, and points out, that what they are doing here is not even a drop in the bucket. They might be able to save a handful of children, out of an uncounted number that suffer the same fate every year.

Beyond the Comfort Zone is a strong and emotional book. It doesn’t try to educate the reader about the hidden realities of human trafficking and child prostitution. It’s the very personal story of one man who got drawn into this world, almost by accident. It makes for compelling reading, and as such can potentially draw even the reader beyond the comfort zone.

Verdict: recommended

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