Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: "Born to Kill" by T. J. English

The most fascinating thing about Born to Kill, T. J. English’s account of the rise and fall of America’s first Vietnamese gang is the strange sense of displacement he conveys fro all involved. This is not your average gangster tale: this is not a story made up of great heroes or nasty villains. Instead, it is made up of people set adrift in a world that they are unprepared for, and the ways in which they deceive themselves into believing they do. Yes, people get killed, and the trajectory of the story is akin to every other story about the rise and fall of criminal enterprises, but not once reading this did I feel a sense of grandeur to the proceedings or even a sense of misplaced honor and moral code. But this is really a story made up of rather sad, misguided people and the somber circumstances that quickly brought them down. Born to Kill, or B. T. K., was an oriental street gang headquartered in New York’s Chinatown and headed up by a Vietnamese immigrant named David Thai, who ruled over a group of almost 100 other Vietnamese immigrants who robbed and extorted and killed at his command, it is also the story of Tinh, another immigrant who joined the gang to fill a hole in his heart, and eventually brought the gang down. What really fascinated me was how the gang acted: they only robbed or extorted other Asians, since they rightly surmised that they would not call the police, and Thai rarely if ever killed his own men for discretions. It was like they wanted to be more than they were, but their culture and ambivalence toward their own lives stopped them, which makes the eventual number of turncoats when the trial occurred not the least bit surprising. And the Tinh, the best part of this book, is a rather tragic figure, who found what he wanted in this lifestyle, (although a harshly quick romantic sojourn showcasing his sense of alienation), until he turned rat out of a depression rather than fear. There are cops talked about, but they aren’t nearly as compelling as the gang, a gang that didn’t end before its time, but sadly, had the lifespan it earned.

Rating: 4/5

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