Around the world in books: Five books from Thai authors

The month of May is often an opportunity to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander people and their heritage. In America the month is called Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and in Canada it’s called Asian Heritage Month. For this month, I’ll be sharing books by Asian authors.

Have you ever wanted to visit Thailand? Here’s your chance to visit Thailand through reading!

Thailand is a really common tourist destination, but unfortunately there’s a limited number of works translated from Thai. Translating any work is a very time consuming and expensive process, requiring incredible skills in two languages.

Publishers are unlikely to put the time and effort into translating a book when they are unsure if the book will have an audience or do well financially. However, this can cause a negative cycle, where there’s so few options that people are unaware of Thai literature, causing lower demand and reinforcing a lack of access.

Some countries disrupt the cycle by providing funding for translations and increasing access, helping to develop a demand for their literature. South Korea and Japan are great examples of this. Their governments provide significant funding to support translators and translations of literary works, which has greatly increased global access to their literature. You can see this whenever you look up recommendations for translated Asian literature, the majority of the suggestions will be Korean and Japanese. Increasing access has also increased demand.

However, not all governments are able to or have chosen to provide funding for translation. But we can choose to promote and show our support for literature in languages, like Thai, that have fewer translated works. We can show support by buying and reading these books, and just increasing awareness and interest by talking about them.

This is an opportunity to show some support for Thai literature!

Photo by Evan Krause on Unsplash

Five books from Thai authors

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Thailand. All but one have been translated from Thai.

  1. The Judgement by ชาติ กอบจิตติ (Chart Korbjitti)
  2. Moving Parts by ปราบดา หยุ่น (Prabda Yoon)
  3. Bright by เดือนวาด พิมวนา (Duanwad Pimwana)
  4. The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by วีรพร นิติประภา (Veeraporn Nitiprapha)
  5. A Good True Thai by Sunisa Manning

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of publication date in their original language (the English version typically gets published much later).

1. The Judgement (1981)

by ชาติ กอบจิตติ (Chart Korbjitti), translated by Phongdeit Jiangphatthana-Kit & Marcel Barang

  • Year Published: 1981 (English version in 2003)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, reflective, medium-paced
  • Won the 1982 South East Asian Writers (“S.E.A. Write”) Award


This is the story of a young man who took as his wife a widow who was slightly deranged. The story would probably have ended there had the widow not been his father’s wife…

Fak is the humble janitor of a provincial temple school. A former novice with the prospect of an outstanding career as a monk, he defrocks to help his ageing, struggling father. While Fak is in the army, his father takes a wife. When the old man dies, Fak shares his hut with the widow. As he repels her advances and protects her from a hostile community, he falls prey to prejudice and misunderstandings from his neighbours, and there is nothing he can do to overturn the people’s judgment. He finds solace in alcohol, which ‘liberates’ him by providing oblivion…


2. Moving Parts (2002)

by ปราบดา หยุ่น (Prabda Yoon), translated by Mui Poopoksakul

  • Year Published: 2002 (English version in 2018)
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, short stories, challenging, dark, reflective, medium-paced
  • ปราบดา หยุ่น (Prabda Yoon) won the 2002 S.E.A. Write Award for another book of his short stories


Surreal and puncturing short stories from the Thai master of the form.

In a pink-walled motel, a teenage prostitute brings a grown man to tears. A love-struck young boy holds the dismembered hand of his crush, only to find himself the object of a complex ménage à trois. A naked body falls from the window of a twenty-story building, while two female office-workers offer each other consolation in the elevator…

In these wry and unsettling stories, Prabda Yoon once again illuminates something of the strangeness of modern cultural life in Bangkok. Disarming the reader with surprising charm, intensity and delicious horror, he explores what it means to have a body, and to interact with those of others.

Supported by English PEN Translates.


3. Bright (2003)

by เดือนวาด พิมวนา (Duanwad Pimwana), translated by Mui Poopoksakul

  • Year Published: 2003 (English version in 2019)
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, literary, hopeful, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Honorable mention in the Global Humanities Translation Prize
  • เดือนวาด พิมวนา (Duanwad Pimwana) is an important women’s voice in contemporary Thai literature


When five-year-old Kampol is told by his father to wait for him in front of some run-down apartment buildings, the confused boy does as told―he waits, and waits, and waits, until he realizes his father isn’t coming back anytime soon. Adopted by the community, Kampol is soon being raised by figures like Chong the shopkeeper, who rents out calls on his telephone and goes into debt while extending his customers endless credit. Kampol also plays with local kids like Noi, whose shirt is so worn that it rips right in half, and the sweet, deceptively cute toddler Penporn.

Dueling flea markets, a search for a ten-baht coin lost in the sands of a beach, pet crickets that get eaten for dinner, bouncy ball fads in school, and loneliness so merciless that it kills a boy’s appetite all combine into Bright, the first-ever novel by a Thai woman to appear in English translation. Duanwad Pimwana’s urban, and at times gritty, vignettes are balanced with a folk-tale-like feel and a charmingly wry sense of humor. Together, these intensely concentrated, minimalist gems combine into an off-beat, highly satisfying coming-of-age story of a very memorable young boy and the age-old legends, practices, and personalities that raise him.


4. The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth (2013)

by วีรพร นิติประภา (Veeraporn Nitiprapha), translated by Kong Rithdee

  • Year Published: 2013 (English version in 2018)
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, literary, magical realism, emotional, slow-paced
  • Won the S.E.A. Write Award for fiction and a best-seller in Thailand


On the day Chareeya is born, her mother discovers her father having an affair with a traditional Thai dancer. From then on, Chareey’s life is fated to carry the weight of her parents’ disappointments. She and her sister grow up in a lush riverside town near the Thai capital, Bangkok, captivated by trashy romance novels, classical music and games of make-believe. When the laconic orphan, Pran, enters their world, he unwittingly lures the sisters into a labyrinth of their own making as they each try to escape their intertwined fates.

The original Thai language edition of The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth won the prestigious South East Asian Writers (“S.E.A. Write”) Award for fiction and was best-seller in Thailand. It is translated into English by Thai film critic and recipient of France’s Chevalier dans I’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Kong Rithdee.

Attuned to the addictive rhythms of a Thai soap opera and written with the consuming intensity of a fever dream, this novel opens an insightful and truly compelling window onto the Thai heart.


5. A Good True Thai (2020)

by Sunisa Manning

  • Year Published: 2020
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, contemporary, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Finalist for the 2020 Epigram Books Fiction Prize

Note, this is not translated, it was originally written in English. The author, Sunisa Manning, was born and raised in Bangkok by Thai and American parents. She also studied in the USA, and has a Bachelors degree in English Literature from Brown University and an MFA (Master’s in Fine Arts) in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.


In 1970s Thailand, three young people meet each other with fateful results.

Det has just lost his mother, the granddaughter of a king. He clings to his best friend Chang, a smart boy from the slums, as they go to college; while there, Det falls for Lek, a Chinese immigrant with radical ideals. Longing for glory, Det journeys into his friends’ political circles, and then into the Thai jungle to fight. During Thailand’s most famous period of political and artistic openness, these three friends must reconcile their deep feelings for one another with the realities of perilous political revolution.


Final thoughts

I love reading translated fiction because it gives you such insight to the way different people live. You may struggle with not recognizing names or terms of things that are uncommon in your country, but you can always do a quick search to find out what it means.

I hope this list serves as inspiration for one of the books you’ll read in the future.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

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