Learning Thai has made me very interested to find out more about the country, history and way of life. At my current beginner stage, I’m learning how to ask for prices and asking for directions, and the textbooks I’m using doesn’t provide much information too. So I’ve turned to media and entertainment, and more recently, I’m on a lookout for good English novels on Thailand and Thai translated fiction, seeing how I can’t read Thai novels yet. I regretted starting on Korean and Japanese translated fiction way too late into learning the language, as I’ve gained so much knowledge and that was different from simply reading non-fiction books on history/culture.
A Good True Thai by Sunisa Manning was a random find in the library and I’m so glad I picked it up. Set in the 1970s against the backdrop of Thailand’s democracy movement, the novel follows the friendship, love and political activism of three young friends: Dek, of noble blood; Chang, a smart boy from the slums; and Lek, a Chinese immigrant with radical ideals.
The novel explores various themes such as class and privilege as the three friends each hold on to their political ideals of how to enact change in their country and at times clash because of their differing views and backgrounds. I love how nuanced the characterisations are, and that many times, it’s more complicated than discerning right from wrong. Hope and helplessness exist in tandem in the novel as the three friends struggle in face of backlash and fear of repercussions, but yet their fierce conviction and fighting spirit keep them going, even when they have to make the difficult decision to leave their family to enter the forests to join the Communists.
It is a compelling read and I only wished that I had started early in the morning so that I can read it in one sitting. I love how the novel does not over-explain, nor translate, and a lot of times, I find myself googling the cultural, socio-political and historical contexts and reference to names, events etc. This makes me engage more actively with the story, and also with the historical and cultural background of Thailand.
There’s a lot going on in the novel, and sometimes it’s hard to balance between focusing on the characters and their stories vs the larger historical backdrop. Yet, the novel manages to weave them together in a sweeping tale.
Definitely a recommended read for those who want to find out more about Thailand.
I am regrettably much ignorant about Southeast Asian history, despite being born and raised in this part of the world. I knew next to nothing about Thailand’s history and I hope that with every book I read, that can change.
Get it at Epigram.