Overview


One of the most widely reviewed debuts of the year, Sightseeing is a masterful story collection by an award-winning young author. Set in contemporary Thailand, these are generous, radiant tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting. Written with exceptional acuity, grace and sophistication, the stories present a nation far removed from its exoticized stereotypes. In the prize-winning opening story "Farangs," the son ...
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Sightseeing

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Overview


One of the most widely reviewed debuts of the year, Sightseeing is a masterful story collection by an award-winning young author. Set in contemporary Thailand, these are generous, radiant tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting. Written with exceptional acuity, grace and sophistication, the stories present a nation far removed from its exoticized stereotypes. In the prize-winning opening story "Farangs," the son of a beachside motel owner commits the cardinal sin of falling for a pretty American tourist. In the novella, "Cockfighter," a young girl witnesses her proud father's valiant but foolhardy battle against a local delinquent whose family has a vicious stranglehold on the villagers. Through his vivid assemblage of parents and children, natives and transients, ardent lovers and sworn enemies, Lapcharoensap dares us to look with new eyes at the circumstances that shape our views and the prejudices that form our blind spots. Gorgeous and lush, painful and candid, Sightseeing is an extraordinary reading experience, one that powerfully reveals that when it comes to how we respond to pain, anger, hurt, and love, no place is too far from home.
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Editorial Reviews

Carol Burns
Lapcharoensap's writing is both elegant and vivid. When occasionally his stories seem too perfectly sculpted, I wonder if the problem is reading too many at once. When I come back to them, their characters and images again seem alive.
— The Washington Post
Darin Strauss
''Cockfighter'' displays Lapcharoensap's gift for the quick detail that catches not only his Thai milieu, but teenage life everywhere. And ''Priscilla,'' which describes gradations of poverty in the third world, is near-perfect in its lyricism, wistfulness and concision. Some recent debuts may be more consistent than Sightseeing is, but few attain its heights.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The Thailand of Westerners' dreams shares space with a Thailand plagued by social and economic inequality in this auspicious debut collection of seven plaintive and luminous stories. In the title tale-an exquisite meditation on human dependency-a son and his ailing mother must accept the dismal reality of her encroaching blindness and what it means for his plans to attend college away from home. In "Don't Let Me Die in This Place," the most exuberant of the stories, an ornery and uproarious widowed grandfather, recently crippled by a stroke, moves from Maryland to Bangkok to live with his son, Thai daughter-in-law and their two "mongrel children." "Farangs" and "At the Caf Lovely" convincingly examine adolescent friendship and love, as does "Priscilla the Cambodian"-though when a refugee camp is torched by native Thai xenophobes, it veers toward the politically dark and ominous. Politics and fear also play a role in "Draft Day," a painfully grim story about two young male friends, one of whom avoids military conscription because of his privileged background, and "Cockfighter," the final and longest of the pieces, in which a berserk local thug rules a town through violence and corruption. Young or old, male or female, all of Lapcharoensap's spirited narrators are engaging and credible. Anger, humor and longing are neatly balanced in these richly nuanced, sharply revelatory tales. Agent, Amy Williams at Collins McCormick Literary Agency. (Jan.) Forecast: With foreign rights already sold in eight countries, and blurbs from Charles Baxter and Allan Gurganus, this stellar debut will likely be one of the most widely reviewed and read story collections of the year. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut collection by 25-year-old Thai American Lapcharoensap is a welcome addition to the continually expanding and diversified realm of Asian American literature. Born in Chicago and raised in Bangkok, the author introduces American readers to lives where activities like cockfighting are seemingly as typical as learning to ride a motorcycle. Though the stories describe a culture that will be foreign to most readers, they contain themes that touch on the human spirit. In the opening piece, "Farangs" (a Thai term for foreigners), the author documents a young man's latest unsuccessful venture in his continual search for true love with foreign women despite the repeated warnings from his mother and best friend. In the final and lengthiest work, "Cockfighter," readers meet Wichian and his family, who all work hard at their menial jobs to build themselves a better life. Wichian, a dabbler in cockfighting, becomes obsessed with the sport and plunges the family into debt. It is in this work that Lapcharoensap's potential as a novelist shines through via an expanded and more complex storyline showing the depth of his characterization. Recommended for all larger collections and essential for libraries serving a Thai American population. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/04.]-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Seven short stories set in Thailand explore the intricacies of modern-day relationships. The overriding themes are not specific to that country, though: each tale focuses on family dynamics and dysfunction. The protagonists in five of the selections are male teens living in or around Bangkok. "Draft Day" addresses the question of loyalty as the narrator allows his parents to bribe an official to keep him from being conscripted. "Sightseeing" tells of a son whose mother is going blind and the ambivalence he feels about living his own life versus caring for her. The last two stories are also first-person narrations, but the voices are different. In "Don't Let Me Die in This Place," an elderly American tries to come to terms-albeit none too gracefully-with his relocation to Thailand to live with his son and Thai daughter-in-law and their "mongrel" children, and "Cockfighting" is told from the perspective of a teen who watches her father become so obsessed with raising roosters that he is blinded to the disintegration of his marriage. In each of the stories, Lapcharoensap offers readers a glimpse of Thailand that they will not find in guidebooks-not only the beauty of this country but also the grit, the overcrowding, and the poverty. More than that, however, he shows with rare wit and insight that coming of age in the world today is a bittersweet and complicated experience regardless of nationality.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer. In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands-where the two can behave like "farangs," or foreigners, for once. It's his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother's acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. "Farangs," included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy's American father, warns him about "bonking" one of the guests. "Draft Day" concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in "Don't Let Me Die in This Place," a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather's grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, "Cockfighter," is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui's bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father's failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to savehis own sister's honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself. A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough. First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour. Agent: Amy Williams/Collins McCormick
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555846732
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 608,611
  • File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

SIGHTSEEING

Stories
By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Grove Press

Copyright © 2005 Rattawut Lapcharoensap
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0


Chapter One

FARANGS

This is how we count the days. June: the Germans come to the Island-football cleats, big T-shirts, thick tongues-speaking like spitting. July: the Italians, the French, the British, the Americans. The Italians like pad thai, its affinity with spaghetti. They like light fabrics, sunglasses, leather sandals. The French like plump girls, rambutans, disco music, baring their breasts. The British are here to work on their pasty complexions, their penchant for hashish. Americans are the fattest, the stingiest of the bunch. They may pretend to like pad thai or grilled prawns or the occasional curry, but twice a week they need their culinary comforts, their hamburgers and their pizzas. They're also the worst drunks. Never get too close to a drunk American. August brings the Japanese. Stay close to them. Never underestimate the power of the yen. Everything's cheap with imperial monies in hand and they're too polite to bargain. By the end of August, when the monsoon starts to blow, they're all consorting, slapping each other's backs, slipping each other drugs, sleeping with each other, sipping their liquor under the pink lights of the Island's bars. By September they've all deserted, leaving the Island to the Aussies and the Chinese,who are so omnipresent one need not mention them at all.

Ma says, "Pussy and elephants. That's all these people want." She always says this in August, at the season's peak, when she's tired of farangs running all over the Island, tired of finding used condoms in the motel's rooms, tired of guests complaining to her in five languages. She turns to me and says, "You give them history, temples, pagodas, traditional dance, floating markets, seafood curry, tapioca desserts, silk-weaving cooperatives, but all they really want is to ride some hulking gray beast like a bunch of wildmen and to pant over girls and to lie there half-dead getting skin cancer on the beach during the time in between."

We're having a late lunch, watching television in the motel office. The Island Network is showing Rambo: First Blood Part II again. Sylvester Stallone, dubbed in Thai, mows down an entire VC regiment with a bow and arrow. I tell Ma I've just met a girl. "It might be love," I say. "It might be real love, Ma. Like Romeo and Juliet love."

Ma turns off the television just as John Rambo flies a chopper to safety.

She tells me it's just my hormones. She sighs and says, "Oh no, not again. Don't be so naïve," she says. "I didn't raise you to be stupid. Are you bonking one of the guests? You better not be bonking one of the guests. Because if you are, if you're bonking one of the guests, we're going to have to bleed the pig. Remember, luk, we have an agreement."

I tell her she's being xenophobic. I tell her things are different this time. But Ma just licks her lips and says once more that if I'm bonking one of the guests, I can look forward to eating Clint Eastwood curry in the near future. Ma's always talking about killing my pig. And though I know she's just teasing, she says it with such zeal and a peculiar glint in her eyes that I run out to the pen to check on the swine.

I knew it was love when Clint Eastwood sniffed her crotch earlier that morning and the girl didn't scream or jump out of the sand or swat the pig like some of the other girls do. She merely lay there, snout in crotch, smiling that angelic smile, like it was the most natural thing in the world, running a hand over the fuzz of Clint Eastwood's head like he was some pink and docile dog, and said, giggling, "Why hello, oh my, what a nice surprise, you're quite a beast, aren't you?"

I'd been combing the motel beachfront for trash when I looked up from my morning chore and noticed Clint Eastwood sniffing his new friend. An American: Her Budweiser bikini told me so. I apologized from a distance, called the pig over, but the girl said it was okay, it was fine, the pig could stay as long as he liked. She called me over and said I could do the same.

I told her the pig's name.

"That's adorable," she said, laughing.

"He's the best," I said. "Dirty Harry. Fistful of Dollars. The Outlaw Josey Wales. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

"He's a very good actor."

"Yes. Mister Eastwood is a first-class thespian."

Clint Eastwood trotted into the ocean for his morning bath then, leaving us alone, side-by-side in the sand. I looked to make sure Ma wasn't watching me from the office window. I explained how Clint Eastwood loves the ocean at low tide, the wet sand like a three-kilometer trough of mud. The girl sat up on her elbows, watched the pig, a waterlogged copy of The Portrait of a Lady at her side. She'd just gone for a swim and the beads of water on her navel seemed so close that for a moment I thought I might faint if I did not look away.

"I'm Elizabeth. Lizzie."

"Nice to meet you, Miss Elizabeth," I said. "I like your bikini."

She threw back her head and laughed. I admired the shine of her tiny, perfectly even rows of teeth, the gleam of that soft, rose-colored tongue quivering between them like the meat of some magnificent mussel.

"Oh my," she said, closing that mouth, gesturing with her chin. "I think your pig is drowning."

Clint Eastwood was rolling around where the ocean meets the sand, chasing receding waves, running away from oncoming ones. It's a game he plays every morning, scampering back and forth across the water's edge, and he snorted happily every time the waves knocked him into the foam.

"He's not drowning," I said. "He's swimming."

"I didn't know pigs could swim."

"Clint Eastwood can."

She smiled, a close-mouthed grin, admiring my pig at play, and I would've given anything in the world to see her tongue again, to reach out and sink my fingers into the hollows of her collarbone, to stare at that damp, beautiful navel all day long.

"I have an idea, Miss Elizabeth," I said, getting up, brushing the sand from the seat of my shorts. "This may seem rather presumptuous, but would you like to go for an elephant ride with me today?"

Ma doesn't want me bonking a farang because once, long ago, she had bonked a farang herself, against the wishes of her own parents, and all she got for her trouble was a broken heart and me in return. The farang was a man known to me only as Sergeant Marshall Henderson. I remember the Sergeant well, if only because he insisted I call him by his military rank.

"Not Daddy," I remember him saying in English, my first and only language at the time. "Sergeant. Sergeant Henderson. Sergeant Marshall. Remember you're a soldier now, boy. A spy for Uncle Sam's army."

And during those early years-before he went back to America, promising to send for us-the Sergeant and I would go on imaginary missions together, navigating our way through the thicket of farangs lazing on the beach.

"Private," he'd yell after me. "I don't have a good feeling about this, Private. This place gives me the creeps. We should radio for reinforcements. It could be an ambush."

"Let 'em come, Sergeant! We can take 'em!" I would squeal, crawling through the sand with a large stick in hand, eyes trained on the enemy. "Those gooks'll be sorry they ever showed their ugly faces."

One day, the three of us went to the fresh market by the Island's southern pier. I saw a litter of pigs there, six of them squeezed into a small cardboard box amidst the loud thudding of butchers' knives. I remember thinking of the little piglets I'd seen skewered and roasting over an open fire outside many of the Island's fancier restaurants.

I began to cry.

"What's wrong, Private?"

"I don't know."

"A soldier," the Sergeant grunted, "never cries."

"They just piggies," Ma laughed, bending to pat me on the back. Because of our plans to move to California, Ma was learning English at the time. She hasn't spoken a word of English to me since. "What piggies say, luk? What they say? Piggies say oink-oink. No cry, luk. No cry. Oink-oink is yummy-yummy."

A few days later, the Sergeant walked into my bedroom with something wriggling beneath his T-shirt. He sat down on the bed beside me. I remember the mattress sinking with his weight, the chirping of some desperate bird struggling in his belly.

"Congratulations, Private," the Sergeant whispered through the dark, holding out a young and frightened Clint Eastwood in one of his large, chapped hands. "You're a CO now. A commanding officer. From now on, you'll be responsible for the welfare of this recruit."

I stared at him dumbfounded, took the pig into my arms.

"Happy birthday, kiddo."

And shortly before the Sergeant left us, before Ma took over the motel from her parents, before she ever forbade me from speaking the Sergeant's language except to assist the motel's guests, before I knew what "bastard" or "mongrel" or "slut" or "whore" meant in any language, there was an evening when I walked into the ocean with Clint Eastwood-I was teaching him how to swim-and when I looked back to shore I saw my mother sitting between the Sergeant's legs in the sand, the sun a bright red orb on the crest of the mountains behind them. They spoke without looking at each other, my mother reaching back to hook an arm around his neck, while my piglet thrashed in the sea foam.

"Ma," I asked a few years later, "you think the Sergeant will ever send for us?"

"It's best, luk," Ma said in Thai, "if you never mention his name again. It gives me a headache."

After I finished combing the beach for trash, put Clint Eastwood back in his pen, Lizzie and I went up the mountain on my motorcycle to Surachai's house, where his uncle Mongkhon ran an elephant-trekking business. Mr. Mongkhon's Jungle Safari, a painted sign declared in their driveway. Come Experience the Natural Beauty of Forest with the Amazing View of Ocean and Splendid Horizon from Elephant's Back! I'd informed Uncle Mongkhon once that his sign was grammatically incorrect and that I'd lend him my expertise for a small fee, but he just laughed and said farangs preferred it just the way it was, thank you very much, they thought it was charming, and did 1 really think I was the only huakhuai who knew English on this godforsaken Island? During the war in Vietnam, before he started the business, Uncle Mongkhon had worked at an airbase on the mainland dishing lunch to American soldiers.

From where Lizzie and I stood, we could see the gray backs of two bulls peeking over the roof of their one-story house. Uncle Mongkhon used to have a corral full of elephants before the people at Monopolated Elephant Tours came to the Island and started underpricing the competition, monopolizing mountain-pass tariffs, and staking their claim upon farangs at hotels three stars and up-doing, in short, what they had done on so many other islands like ours. MET was putting Uncle Mongkhon out of business, and in the end he was forced to sell several elephants to logging companies on the mainland. Where there had once been eight elephants roaming the wide corral, now there were only two-Yai and Noi-aging bulls with ulcered bellies and flaccid trunks that hung limply between their crusty forelegs.

"Oh, wow," Lizzie said. "Are those actual elephants?"

I nodded.

"They're so huge."

She clapped a few times, laughing.

"Huge!" she said again, jumping up and down. She turned to me and smiled.

Surachai was lifting weights in the yard, a barbell in each hand. Uncle Mongkhon sat on the porch bare-chested, smoking a cigarette. When Surachai saw Lizzie standing there in her bikini, his arms went limp. For a second I was afraid he might drop the weights on his feet.

"Where'd you find this one?" he said in Thai, smirking, walking toward us.

"Boy," Uncle Mongkhon yelled from the porch, also in Thai. "You irritate me. Tell that girl to put on some clothes. You know damn well I don't let bikinis ride. This is a respectable establishment. We have rules."

"What are they saying?" Lizzie asked. Farangs get nervous when you carry on a conversation they can't understand.

"They just want to know if we need one elephant or two."

"Let's just get one." Lizzie smiled, reaching out to take my hand. "Let's ride one together." I held my breath. Her hand shot bright, surprising comets of heat up my arm. I wanted to yank my hand away even as I longed to stand there forever with our sweaty palms folded together. I heard the voice of Surachai's mother coming from inside the house, the light sizzle of a frying pan.

"It's nothing, Maew," Uncle Mongkhon yelled back to his sister inside. "Though I wouldn't come out here unless you like nudie shows. The mongrel's here with another member of his international harem."

"These are my friends," I said to Lizzie. "This is Surachai."

"How do you do," Surachai said in English, shaking her hand, looking at me all the while.

"I'm fine, thank you." Lizzie chuckled. "Nice to meet you."

"Yes yes yes," Surachai said, grinning like a fool. "Honor to meet you, madam. It will make me very gratified to let you ride my elephants. Very gratified. Because he"-Surachai patted me on the back now-"he my handsome soulmate. My best man."

Surachai beamed proudly at me. I'd taught him that word: "soulmate."

"You're married?" Lizzie asked. Surachai laughed hysterically, uncomprehendingly, widening his eyes at me for help.

"He's not," I said. "He meant to say 'best friend.'"

"Yes yes," Surachai said, nodding. "Best friend."

"You listening to me, boy?" Uncle Mongkhon got up from the porch and walked toward us. "Bikinis don't ride. It scares the animals."

"Sawatdee, Uncle," I said, greeting him with a wai, bending my head extra low for effect; but he slapped me on the head with a forehand when I came up.

"Tell the girl to put on some clothes," Uncle Mongkhon growled. "It's unholy."

"Aw, Uncle," I pleaded. "We didn't bring any with us."

"Need I remind you, boy, that the elephant is our national symbol? Sometimes I think your stubborn farang half keeps you from understanding this. You should be ashamed of yourself. I would tell your ma if it wouldn't break her heart.

"What if I went to her country and rode a bald eagle in my underwear, huh?" he continued, pointing at Lizzie. "How would she like it? Ask her, will you?"

"What's he saying?" Lizzie whispered in my ear.

"Ha ha ha," Surachai interjected, gesticulating wildly. "Everything okay, madam. Don't worry, be happy. My uncle, he just say elephants very terrified of your breasts."

"You should've told me to put on some clothes." Lizzie turned to me, frowning, letting go of my hand.

"It's really not a problem," I said, laughing.

"No," Uncle Mongkhon said to Lizzie in English. "Not a big problem, madam. Just a small one."

Continues...


Excerpted from SIGHTSEEING by Rattawut Lapcharoensap Copyright © 2005 by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Farangs 1
At the cafe lovely 25
Draft day 55
Sightseeing 71
Priscilla the Cambodian 99
Don't let me die in this place 125
Cockfighter 159
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Astonishing collection from a debut writer

    I thought this a breathtaking collection of stories from a debut writer. First published in 2004 and written by a Thai-American, it gives us insight into how Westerners may b perceived by some Asians. It also happens to be a very witty and insightful look at the human condition, wherever one happens to grow up. If you've never been to Bangkok, or the beaches, this is your preparation. If you have been there, your senses will come alive with the sounds, smells, and tastes. I have looked forward to something new from this author for so long, I fear he has left us in the dust. Let us hope he is preparing to dazzle us with a long-prepared, well-crafted new manuscript.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2005

    Like a Siamese waterplug... stories with 2 sides

    Sightseeing is a supremely mastered collection of 6 short stories and 1 novella set in modern Thailand. Mr. Lapcharoensap, who is known as 'A', which is a contraction of 'cha-ae' (the Thai equivalent of 'peek-a-boo'), was born in Chicago, raised in Thailand and the U.S., and graduated from an American writing program. It is refreshing to read stories set in Thailand in which the Thais do not speak in pidgin English. The tales will resonate with you and afterwards you will ponder them and perhaps reread them to look for how his finely crafted sentence structures, alliterations, and pacing made the story move along so well. Each story in sightseeing is led by a different guide, and they allow the reader to observe different aspects of this ¿Land of Smiles¿ that are rarely seen by non-Thais. In ¿Farang,¿ we meet a young man living in the lush beach districts of the South, where tourists and natives show their uglier sides and prejudice amidst the beautiful landscapes. In ¿Draft Day,¿ economic privileges and class contexts intrude on friendships; and in ¿At The Café Lovely¿ a brother recalls a bonding experience and loss of innocence in a cafe that is not so lovely and fingers smell of heaven and glue. Hate and prejudice; bumper cars, abuse and love; depression, disgrace and decay, and the nasty, nefarious habits of prostitution, sniffing paint thinner, and goons with methamphetamine intrude on the succulent landscapes. In ¿Sightseeing,¿ a son and mother make a trip to the beautiful coast before he starts college, gains some senses, and she loses one of her senses. In ¿Priscilla the Cambodian¿, two Thai boys befriend a gold-toothed, young girl from the Cambodian refugee shanty town that abuts their struggling middle class housing development, and learn some lessons that shock them from their swiftly ending childhood. In ¿Don¿t Let Me Die in This Place,¿ we are introduced to a non-Thai ¿ an older American widower who is suffering from the effects of a stroke and forced to live in the sweltering heat of BKK with his son, Thai daughter-in-law, and two Thai speaking grandchildren. Worse yet, he must drink his beer through a straw. In the author¿s able hands, the reader will feel both the sweat and frustrations of `Mister Perry.¿ The collection ends with a novella, ¿Cockfighter,¿ about a 15 year old teen and her parents. Her father works as a winning cockfighter, training birds to fight. But when a local hoodlum enters this man¿s domain, the feathers fly and the family might get pecked apart.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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