by Chet Nairene
Beginning in 1968 and spanning just under four decades, Pacific Dash unfolds the adventures of Dashiell (“Dash”) Xavier Bonaventure II. When his father’s tractor company posts the family to Hong Kong from rural Illinois, fifteen-year-old Dash believes it will be a temporary move.
However, he couldn’t be more wrong and despite a sojourn back in New Hampshire, he spends the next forty years making friends, enemies, and an awful lot of money as he traverses the Far East…
Although fictional, Pacific Dash reads as a travel memoir and clearly contains shards of buried and not so buried autobiography. It’s a sprawling novel separated into six books but through all there are threads of connection; themes, characters, and business opportunities are often linked and return full circle.
Dash is a smart, engaging protagonist but not always likable. There is a touch of entitlement about him which he is, overall, aware of and, emotionally, he occasionally appears superfluous. Notwithstanding, he carries the novel well and his laidback affability is amusing and lends credibility to some of the slightly convenient developments in the narrative.
He has the enviable talent of fitting in wherever he finds himself, subtly adapting and improvising his behavior to benefit not only himself but those around him. Indeed, landing in late 1960s Hong Kong from the Midwest, leaving life as you know it behind would prove temperamentally disastrous for most teenagers but not so for Dash who remains amusingly ever-curious and appears breezily unaffected.
Nonetheless, this optimism is sorely tested when he becomes the unofficial amanuensis to the literary god, Demetrio Luminoso, at Olde Albion College in New Hampshire. This section of the book is different in tone from the rest. “Demy” is a slightly sinister figure who inspires almost cult-like devotion from his acolytes, including Dash.
This interlude is oddly intriguing and provides the catalyst for Dash to take off for the Far East, primarily landing in Bali and fully immersing himself in the backpacker lifestyle. Nairene brings Indonesian culture vividly and vibrantly to life, making this section of Pacific Dash supremely absorbing. Some of the characters are a touch stereotypical but they work well in context and all are overshadowed by the wonderfully realized PY “Little Fatty” Lee.
Little Fatty is an Indo-Chinaman who, from this moment on, features heavily in Dash’s life and is instrumental in his subsequent successes and a few of his failures. He’s colorful, authentic, and affectionately portrayed. It’s through Little Fatty that Dash begins his stratospheric ascent through the murky high-stakes gambling world as he embarks, literally, to manage an illicit floating casino in the Straits of Malacca.
His time aboard “The Floating Diamond” is highly readable and is, without question, rooted in fact as is the selection of undesirable individuals that enable this waterborne den of iniquity. Despite the mountains of cash that Dash amasses, he never appears particularly happy during this time and there is a growing sense of slight boredom and foreboding.
The story then moves to Macau with a similar narrative albeit involving a more elite clientele as he teams up with old HK schoolfriend, Jackson Toh. Although this book leads neatly into the end scenario, personally it lost a touch of momentum, or maybe my interest in the world of Asian gambling began to ebb.
Nevertheless, it does provide a motive for the last book and I was gratified to see a character from the first book reappear; it was clear he would and personally, I was wondering when. Consequently, Pacific Dash closes with a sense of karma, poignancy, and where to now for Mr. Bonaventure II…
Pacific Dash is a consistently entertaining and adventurous ride of a read written with verve and enthusiasm. Highly recommended.