The best books on Thailand
Kukrit’s epic novel follows one woman’s life spanning the reigns of four kings – Rama V to Rama VIII – from the 1890s to the second world war.
At the age of 10, Phloi goes to live in the royal palace in Bangkok with her mother, who serves as a minor courtier. Phloi’s eventful life inside and outside the palace – as daughter, sister, wife and mother – reflects the enormous changes taking place in the country. Traditional Siam is buffeted by historic events at home and abroad – a palace revolution, two world wars, Japanese occupation, allied bombing – as it evolves into modern Thailand.
“Pussy and elephants. That’s all these people want,” says a hotel owner who caters for farangs (Thai slang for foreigners). That sets the tone for an east-west culture clash in the opening tale of this lively debut collection of short stories set in contemporary Thailand. It’s a fresh, provocative take on the country’s beauty and bleakness – without a hint of exoticism.
This engaging and accessible history focuses on the economic, social and political forces that shaped contemporary Thailand. Baker and Pasuk reveal how ruling nobles, unfree labourers, Chinese migrants and Buddhism become part of the mix as the country is transformed from a culturally and linguistically disparate region into a homogenised nation-state under a strong monarchy.