Five classic books from Thailand (เมืองไทย)

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read from anywhere in the world.


I currently live in Thailand and I’m always learning new things about the country and the people.

I’ve been trying to learn the Thai language and it’s incredibly difficult. But the more I learn, the more I understand that there’s so much culture embedded in the language and it’s a reflection of the nation’s history.

For instance, a lot of the Thai language has been influenced by Indian languages, both Sanskrit and Pali. Sanskrit is more associated with Hinduism and social hierarchies, whereas Pali is associated with Buddhism and the language used by commoners.

So, Thai words used in connection with the monarchy tend to come from Sanskrit, whereas words used for going to the Buddhist temple are more likely to come from Pali. These two languages tend to have distinct spelling patterns or use certain Thai letters, so the difference is still visible to this day.

Photo by Mos on Unsplash

I know the Thai language often poses a barrier to translating works to English, as it can be difficult to translate all the nuances embedded in the language.

But I think a the greater barrier is that most publishing houses don’t see Thailand as a priority, actually I think most of Southeast Asia is not seen as a priority.

One of the best ways to improve that is to show an interest in Southeast Asian/Thai literature. The more people buy and seek out books from this area, the more the corporations will see it as an opportunity for monetary growth.

So in order to promote Thai literature, and also to share a bit more about Thailand, I’ve put together a list of some classic Thai literature.

This list is obviously not extensive, but serves as an introduction to a few areas of Thai literature that have been translated into English.

Five classic books from Thailand

Here’s a list of five classic books with authors from Thailand.

  1. Ramakien / รามเกียรติ์ (13th century)
  2. Phra Aphai Mani / พระอภัยมณี (1822-1844)
  3. Four Reigns / สี่แผ่นดิน (1953)
  4. A Child of the Northeast / ลูกอีสาน (1976)
  5. The Happiness of Kati / ความสุขของกะทิ (2006)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Ramakien / รามเกียรติ์ (13th century)

(Thai: รามเกียรติ์ meaning ‘Glory of Rama’; sometimes also spelled Ramakian)

  • Year Published: 13th century
  • Language: Thai
  • One of Thailand’s epic poems and
  • It is considered Thailand’s version of the Ramayana as it shares most of same the tales, but has been adjusted to the culture of Ayutthaya

Ramakien tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of the demons) and a human, King Rama. Tosakanth kidnaps Queen Sida, wife of King Rama, with the hope that she will fall in love with him. The battle over Queen Sida has Tosakanth and his relatives and friends on one side, against King Rama, his loyal brother Phra Lak and an army of monkey warriors, including Hanuman the demi-god white monkey.

Links:

Phra Aphai Mani / พระอภัยมณี (1822-1844)

by Sunthorn Phu / สุนทรภู่ (who is known as “the Bard of Rattanakosin” / ”กวีเอกแห่งกรุงรัตนโกสินทร์”)

  • Year Published: 1822-1844
  • Storygraph Categories: poetry, adventurous, challenging, reflective, medium-paced
  • As a 48,700-line epic poem, it is considered to be one of Thailand’s national epics, and the world’s second longest epic poem written by a single poet

At the very beginning, Phra Abhai Mani and his younger brother Sri Suvarna set out to acquire knowledge. The kind of knowledge that was thought fit for princes in Thai stories then was the silpasat, which is equivalent to general knowledge or liberal education. The two Princes took up special studies instead. Phra Abhai Mani mastered the art of music, especially flute-playing, while Sri Suvarna was trained in the art of self-defence, in particular cudgel-fighting. Such specialisations were not known or appreciated then and, as a result, the two Princes were turned out of the kingdom by their own father.

Afterwards, the two Princes met three Brahmins who also professed special sciences. One of them could shoot seven arrows at the same time and make them all hit the mark. They exhibited their special excellences of which Phra Abhai Mani’s outshone the rest. At this point, Phra Abhai Mani and Sri Suvarna were separated from each other and had different adventures. But they kept themselves from harm by virtue of their special knowledge. Their lives were also shaped by what they had learnt.

Links:

Four Reigns / สี่แผ่นดิน (1953)

by Kukrit Pramoj / คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช, translated from the Thai by Tulachandra

  • Year Published: 1953
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, historical, challenging, informative, slow-paced
  • One of the most influential Thai novels, widely regarded as a classic and the Encyclopaedia Britannica described it as “probably the best-selling Thai novel of all time”

This English version of the Thai novel Si Phaendin tells the rich and entertaining story of one woman’s life both inside and outside the royal palace in Bangkok. Spanning a period of four reigns, from King Chulalongkorn to the reign of his grandson King Ananda, this popular modern classic gives insight into the social and political issues facing Thailand from the 1890s through the turbulent years of World War II.

Links:

A Child of the Northeast / ลูกอีสาน (1976)

by Kampoon Boonthavee / คำพูน บุญทวี, translated from the Thai by Susan Fulop Kepner

  • Year Published: 1976
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Won the SEA Write Award

A novel about a year in the life of a village in Northeast Thailand during the 1930’s. It is also a tale about a world scarcely known in the West: the world of “Isan”, which is what the natives call their corner of Thailand.

Kampoon Boontawee based this award-winning novel on memories of his own childhood in Isan during the depths of the Depression. The loving, courageous family at the center of the novel include a boy named Koon, who is about eight years old; his sisters Yee-soon, five, and Boonlai, two; and their parents, whose names we never learn. They are simply “Koon’s mother” and “Koon’s father”, even by their friends and family.

Kampoon also introduces his readers to a wider, equally unforgettable family: the relatives and neighbors who live in Koon’s village. It is their bravery, their goodness of heart, and above all, their indestructible, earthy sense of humor, that shape the boy Koon’s perception of the world, and his purpose in it.

Links:

The Happiness of Kati / ความสุขของกะทิ (2006)

by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva / งามพรรณ เวชชาชีวะ, translated from the Thai by Prudence Borthwick

  • Year Published: 2006
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, contemporary, middle grade, emotional, medium-paced
  • Won the SEA Write Award

When the mother she hasn’t seen in five years is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, nine-year-old Kati travels to the house by the sea to spend the last weeks of her mother’s life with her, in this touching story of love, hope, and renewal set in Thailand.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

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

Five epic poems from around the world

April is Poetry Month! So I will be sharing lots of poetry suggestions to help you find more poetry that you enjoy.

Like most forms of art, poetry is subjective and very personal. It can take time to find what you like. I want to remind you that you don’t have to like the poetry that people say you should, but I would encourage you to keep exploring poetry until you find what you enjoy.


For this week, I wanted to focus on epic poems. Epic poems are very long narrative poems, so basically a story told in verse. They often follow the typical hero or journey arc, but can be on any theme.

I think one of the most well-known epic poems in the western world would be The Odyssey or The Iliad by Homer. But there are so many more than that, and from many different parts of the world.

My last post talked about some of the most influential epic poems and for this post I want to focus on some lesser known, but fascinating, epic poems. I’ve included examples from around the world to show how diverse the options are, and also because it seems like most areas of the world have a history of epic poems.

Personally, I wonder if epic poems were common in the past because they were an easier way to share and remember the stories orally due to the rhythm, structure, and rhyming. I imagine it could be similar to how we memorize song lyrics.

I know for most of human history storytelling was primarily oral and any kind of written content was limited to “elites”, those either with lots of money, power or part of a religious order.

It’s amazing to think of how much more accessible the written word is today. Anyone can put their thoughts down on paper (or a digital document) and share it with anyone else. I think that’s beautiful.

I know nowadays epic poems are rarely the form of choice, but epic poems can be found in the literature of most cultures throughout history. And today I want to share with you a few that you might not know or realize were a poem.

Photo by areej fateyma on Unsplash

Five epic poems from around the world

Here’s a list of five epic poems from around the world.

  1. Beowulf by Anonymous / Unknown (975-1025 CE)
  2. Shahnameh by Ferdowsi (977-1010 CE)
  3. The Five Great Epics by Tamil Jains and Tamil Buddhists (no specific individuals) (5th-10th century CE)
  4. Ramakien (13th century)
  5. The Song of Kiều by Du Nguyên (1820)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in the general order of when they were “published”.

Beowulf (975-1025 CE)

by Anonymous / Unknown

  • Year Published:975-1025 AD
  • Language: Old English
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, fantasy, poetry, adventurous, medium-paced
  • One of the most often translated and important works of Old English

Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel’s mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath.

Links:

Shahnameh (977-1010 CE)

(Persian: شاهنامه, ‘The Book of Kings’, also transliterated Shahnama)
by Ferdowsi

  • Year Published: 977-1010 CE
  • Language: Persian
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, classics, history, poetry, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • One of the longest epic poems in the world, and the longest written by a single individual
  • Considered a literary masterpiece and important to Persian literature

Among the great works of world literature, perhaps one of the least familiar to English readers is the “Shahnameh: ThePersian Book of Kings,” the national epic of Persia. This prodigious narrative, composed by the poet Ferdowsi between the years 980 and 1010, tells the story of pre- Islamic Iran, beginning in the mythic time of Creation and continuing forward to the Arab invasion in the seventh century. As a window on the world, “Shahnameh” belongs in the company of such literary masterpieces as Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the plays of Shakespeare, the epics of Homer- classics whose reach and range bring whole cultures into view. In its pages are unforgettable moments of national triumph and failure, human courage and cruelty, blissful love and bitter grief.

Links:

The Five Great Epics (5th-10th century CE)

(Tamil: ஐம்பெரும்காப்பியங்கள் Aimperumkāppiyaṅkaḷ)
by Tamil Jains and Tamil Buddhists (no specific individuals)

  • written over the 5th-10th century CE
  • Language: Tamil
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, poetry, adventurous, slow-paced
  • Are a source of historical information on the Tamil people, including their society, religion, culture and academic life

Names of all five epics:
1. Cilappatikāram 
2. Manimekalai
3. Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi
4. Valayapathi 
5. Kundalakesi

Cilappatikāram Summary

One of the world’s masterpieces, The Cilappatikaram (5th century ce) by Ilanko Atikal is India’s finest epic in a language other than Sanskrit. It spells out in unforgettable verse the problems that humanity has been wrestling with for a long time: love, war, evil, fate and death.

The Tale of an Anklet is the love story of Kovalan and Kannaki. Originating in Tamil mythology, the compelling tale of Kannaki—her love, her feats and triumphs, and her ultimate transformation to goddess—follows the conventions of Tamil poetry and is told in three phases: the erotic, the heroic and the mythic. This epic ranks with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as one of the great classics of Indian literature and is presented for the first time in a landmark English verse translation by the eminent poet R. Parthasarathy, making it accessible to a wider audience.

Links:

Ramakien (13th century)

(Thai: รามเกียรติ์, ’Glory of Rama’; sometimes also spelled Ramakian)

  • Year Published: 13th century
  • Language: Thai
  • One of Thailand’s epic poems and
  • It is considered Thailand’s version of the Ramayana as it shares most of same the tales, but has been adjusted to the culture of Ayutthaya

Ramakien tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of the demons) and a human, King Rama. Tosakanth kidnaps Queen Sida, wife of King Rama, with the hope that she will fall in love with him. The battle over Queen Sida has Tosakanth and his relatives and friends on one side, against King Rama, his loyal brother Phra Lak and an army of monkey warriors, including Hanuman the demi-god white monkey.

Links:

The Song of Kiều (1820)

The original title in Vietnamese is Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh (斷腸新聲, “A New Cry From a Broken Heart”), but it is more commonly known as Truyện Kiều (傳翹, “Tale of Kiều”)
by Du Nguyên

  • Year Published: 1820
  • Language: Vietnamese (written in Chữ Nôm – Chinese characters)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Most famous Vietnamese poem and a Vietnamese literature classic

A stunning new translation of the legendary Vietnamese epic poem, now for the first time in Penguin Classics

Considered the greatest literary achievement in Vietnamese, The Song of Kieu tells the story of the beautiful Vuong Thuy Kieu, who agrees to a financially profitable marriage in order to save her family from ruinous debts, but is tricked into working in a brothel. Her tragic life involves jealous wives, slavery, war, poverty, and time as a nun. Adapted from a seventeenth-century Chinese novel, Jin Yun Qiao, written by an unknown writer under the pseudonym Qingxin Cairen, author Nguyen Du upended the plot’s traditional love story by conveying the social and political upheavals at the end of the 18th century in Vietnam.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of epic poems.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of what to read. I’d love to know which poems you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these epic poems, or a part of one? What did you think of it?

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

Women in Translation: 5 books from Southeast Asian women

This month, August, is a chance to celebrate women in translation, specifically women authors who’s works have been translated. There’s so much good translated literature out there. For this month, I’ll be sharing some inspiration for women authors from around the world who have had their work translated into English.

I know a lot of people read works translated from English into their own language, and there’s so many languages that works need to be translated into. But since I only read in English, I’m going to be highlighting works that have been translated into English.


This week we’ll be visiting Southeast Asia, which usually consists of countries including: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Indonesia.

I find that these countries are less likely to be included in lists of translated literature, which makes me feel like it’s even more important to highlight books from this region.

When it is difficult to find women authors from specific countries, it makes me wonder how much we are missing out on. Every country has talented authors, with incredible stories to tell. And it breaks my heart that certain countries are just seen as not a priority for the publishing world.

But the more that people take time to notice and show interest in these countries, the more likely that publishing world will also pay attention. After all, publishing is still a market, so where there is demand, there will be a supply. So let’s create the demand.

Five books from Southeast Asian women

Here’s a list of five books with women authors from Southeast Asia.

  1. Vietnam: Paradise of the Blind by Dương Thu Hương (1988)
  2. Malaysia: The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu (2010)
  3. Thailand: The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by วีรพร นิติประภา (Veeraporn Nitiprapha) (2013)
  4. Vietnam: Mãn by Kim Thúy (2013)
    Vietnam
  5. Indonesia: Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha (2018)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve ordered them based on the year they were published in their original language (not the year of the English translation).

Paradise of the Blind (1988)

by Dương Thu Hương Translated by Nina McPherson & Phan Huy Đường

  • Year Published: 1988
    English version in 2002
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Language: Vietnamese
  • Country: Vietnam
  • Currently banned in Vietnam

Paradise of the Blind is an exquisite portrait of three Vietnamese women struggling to survive in a society where subservience to men is expected and Communist corruption crushes every dream. Through the eyes of Hang, a young woman in her twenties who has grown up amidst the slums and intermittent beauty of Hanoi, we come to know the tragedy of her family as land reform rips apart their village. When her uncle Chinh‘s political loyalties replace family devotion, Hang is torn between her mother‘s appalling self–sacrifice and the bitterness of her aunt who can avenge but not forgive. Only by freeing herself from the past will Hang be able to find dignity –– and a future.

Links:

The Age of Goodbyes (2010)

by Li Zi Shu, translated from Chinese by Y.Z. Chin

  • Year Published: 2010
    English version in 2022
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, emotional, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Language: Chinese
  • Country: Malaysia

By one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting writers, The Age of Goodbyes is a wildly inventive account of family history, political turmoil, and the redemptive grace of storytelling.

In the summer of 1969, in the wake of Malaysia’s deadliest race riots, a woman named Du Li An secures her place in society by marrying a gangster. In a parallel narrative, a critic known only as The Third Person explores the work of a writer also named Du Li An. And a third storyline is in the second person; “you” are reading a novel titled The Age of Goodbyes. Floundering in the wake of “your” mother’s death, “you” are trying to unpack the secrets surrounding “your” lineage.

The Age of Goodbyes—which begins on page 513, a reference to the riots of May 13, 1969—is the acclaimed debut by Li Zi Shu. The winner of multiple awards and a Taiwanese bestseller, this dazzling novel is a profound exploration of what happens to personal memory when official accounts of history distort and render it taboo.

Links:

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
  • Language: Thai
  • Country: Thailand
  • Won the prestigious South East Asian Writers (“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.

Links:

Mãn (2013)

by Kim Thúy, translated from French by Sheila Fischman

  • Year Published: 2013
    English version in 2014
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Language: French
  • Country: Vietnam & Canada
  • Kim Thuy is a Vietnamese-born Canadian writer, whose debut novel Ru won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction at the 2010 Governor General’s Awards

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband – a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal.

Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears.

Mãn is a mystery – her name means ‘perfect fulfillment’, yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair.

Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.

Links:

Apple & Knife (2018)

by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, horror, short stories, dark, medium-paced
  • Language: Bahasa Indonesia
  • Country: Indonesia
  • You may want to check content warnings before reading

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These short fictions set in the Indonesian everyday—in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages—reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. Sometimes wacky and always engrossing, this is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Mara finds herself brainstorming an ad campaign for Free Maxi Pads, with a little help from the menstruation-eating hag of her childhood. Jamal falls in love with the rich and powerful Bambang, but it is the era of the smiling general and, if he’s not careful, he may find himself recruited to Bambang’s brutal cause. Solihin would give anything to make dangdut singer Salimah his wife – anything at all.

In the globally connected and fast-developing Indonesia of Apple and Knife, taboos, inversions, sex and death all come together in a heady, intoxicating mix full of pointed critiques and bloody mutilations. Women carve a place for themselves in this world, finding ways to subvert norms or enacting brutalities on themselves and each other.

Links:


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books written by Southeast Asian authors.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite book written by a Southeast Asian author, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

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.

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

Summary:

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…

Links:

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

Summary:

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.

Links:

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

Summary:

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.

Links:

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

Summary:

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.

Links:

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.

Summary:

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.

Links:


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.

Holding hands

Excerpt from Moving Parts by Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น)

Photo by Farrinni | Accessed on Unsplash.com

This is an excerpt from the book Moving Parts by Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น), translated by Mui Poopoksakul.

“Can I hold your hand?” Just last Saturday evening, the boy had gone to see a movie, and he’d picked up the line from a cutesy love scene.

The girl sat there awhile, charmed by the idea, before she gave her answer with enthusiasm: “Sure, take it.”

She gave him her left hand.

He took it nervously.

And then the girl sprinted off, disappearing into the luscious glow of the evening sun, leaving the boy to sit there in a tangle of emotions, staring at the third hand he held in his right hand. No one had ever given him their hand so nonchalantly before. Happy? Sure, he could say he was happy, because he’d had a secret crush on the girl for months. Being in possession of her hand surely meant that he’d managed to chisel away a few layers of brick from the wall separating their personal spaces.

But the happiness dissipated in no time, replaced instead by anxiety.

He didn’t know how to behave toward the girl’s hand no that he had it.

As the dusky sky set in, the boy decided to go home.

“Hurry up and have a shower, sweetie. I’ve got dinner ready,” his mother caught sight of him coming in just after she heard the front door shut. She was standing in the kitchen, peeling yellow-fleshed oranges. Her eyes toggled back and forth very quickly from her son to the fruit, but she was eagle-eyed enough to spot the foreign object in his hand. She immediately did a double take, turning her head with a whoosh. “And whose hand have you got there, huh?”

“A friend from school’s, Mom.” Although his account was not precisely truthful, it didn’t quite fall under the category of a lie either. But when he added out of nervousness that “sh—he lent it to me”, well, now he was toeing a mighty fine line between sin and innocence.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Moving Parts – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

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.

Copyright © 2002 by Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น).

Translated by: Mui Poopoksakul.

More details can be found on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.