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Maya Herman

In Search of The Silk King
A Novel

Among many stories I heard in Southeast Asia, the most fascinating is the story of the legendary American “silk king” of Thailand – Jim Thompson. It is as mysterious as Asia itself.

The name Jim Thompson seemed to follow me from the first moment I arrived in Bangkok. The more stories and rumors I heard, the more I became fascinated by them. They had all the ingredients of a good novel or a major movie – romance, mystery, glamour, exotic locations, and more. The legend of the “silk king” and his disappearance remains as mysterious today as it was in 1967. No clues were ever found. Only unanswered questions remained.

Using poetic license, I decided to write a novel that might answer some of them. As such, the novel is very loosely and only in part based on the real life of Jim Thompson, as I learned of it primarily through living in Bangkok, traveling extensively throughout Southeast Asia and writing about it in my book of travel essays, The Jade Window (Bangkok, 1998). It is also in part based on the information I gathered in my research from the newspaper articles on Thompson, William Warren’s indispensable biography of him, on the interviews with Warren and Henry Thompson, through Alexander Macdonald’s notes and OSS archives, for all of which I am immensely grateful. Still, my “Jim Thompson”is not a historic but a fictional character.

In Search of The Silk King is a work of fiction written in many voices that are tempered with the measure of truth. Any errors – biographical, historical, intended, or otherwise - are solely mine.

This is the story of an adventure told in hero’s voice and in various voices of the people who knew him. It is also the story of his life that had the sweep of a historical romance and the power of a heroic quest. As Jim Thompson’s absorbing tale unfolds, the reader discovers what happened after his disappearance, how he succeeded and suffered and eventually found the truth. It is a novel of suspense, of fate and love lost and found.

The “Jim Thompson” of my novel thinks of himself as an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. There are, on the tapes he sent from his after-life in exile to a journalist friend, his memories of the past: his childhood desire to travel to exotic places … of his first and greatest love, of his marriage. As a young man, Jim went to New York and worked as an architect. He met Vera, a Russian ballerina, and fell in love with her. He gave her a brooch designed as a pair of ballet slippers made of emeralds and diamonds as a token of his great love. When Vera decided to go back to her old lover she returned one of the two slippers. Jim kept the slipper as the memento of his love that would prove to be fatal.

After the breakup, Jim tried to find a new direction in life. He married a woman he barely knew and enlisted in the Army. This was his way of escaping the loss of his first great love that would mark his whole emotional life. He went to Africa where he worked for the OSS with Maurice, a half-French, half-Laotian mystery man. Not eager to return home, Jim volunteered to go to Southeast Asia. This was the real beginning of his journey. He fell in love with Bangkok and wanted to stay there even after the war was over. His wife Pat did not share his enthusiasm and agreed to a divorce. Jim returned to Bangkok with a plan to renovate the Oriental hotel. He did not succeed in that, but found his true vocation in a forgotten art of silk making. Jim almost single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry and became the most successful American businessman in Thailand. There is a story about silk. Jim’s life seemed full. He built a beautiful house and opened a new store. He seemed to have finally found his fulfillment. He had a beautiful young mistress, Nicole, and seemed

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