Book Review: Borneo Tom by Tom McLaughlin

June 30, 2011
Title: Borneo Tom: Stories of Love, Travel and Jungle Family in Tropical Asia
Author: Tom McLaughlin
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Travel
Year Published: 2010
Format: Large Paperback
Source: I was sent this book for review.

Borneo Tom: Stories and Sketches of Love, Travel and Jungle Family in Tropical Asia by Tom McLaughlin is a surprisingly delightful book concerning a part of the world that most people know little about.

After American science teacher Tom McLaughlin was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, he decided to not let it stop him. He had long been fascinated by Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, having spent time there as a young Peace Corps volunteer.

But Tom decided to move there, not just visit as a tourist. He was fascinated by the people, the lands, and the cultures and customers he found, particularly in Borneo, where he settled down.

This book is a cheerful and unusual record of his travels throughout the area. Each section is a separate essay with a certain angle. This unusual approach does break up the continuity of the narration, but is also lets Tom explore different subjects, particularly his fascination with the naturalist Alfred Wallace, who was overshadowed by Charles Darwin. I had never heard of Wallace before, and it made for interesting reading.

Tom is unafraid to encounter leeches, monkeys, and anything in the jungles -- of course, as a biologist he is fascinated by the different species. Tom is especially partial to orangutans!

What I really like about Tom is his openness to learning the language and respect for other cultures and other religions. He has a wonderful sense of humor including poking fun at himself.

There is a surprise ending to the book that I will not spoil for you, leaving you to find out for yourself! No one was more surprised than Tom!

The book is a large format paperback with delightful drawings by Waterfront Niki, which add to the humorous slant of the book.

That is what really is the best part -- that Tom shows a part of the world that is largely unknown -- in a lighthearted way that shows his deep love for the native people.

What could have been a boring travelogue becomes a charmingly original tale of life and love in the tropics.

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