Det, Chang and Lek are young university students living in Thailand during the 1970s. It is a turbulent time for the country’s politics: student-led protests in 1973 succeeded in (briefly) overthrowing the country’s military dictatorship. Det, Chang and Lek—three students from very different backgrounds—navigate the country’s changing politics from the streets of Bangkok to the jungles of northern Thailand.
Sarah Mullins, an American woman, arrives at “The Kingdom”: a fading luxury apartment complex in Bangkok. She is there to lay low, after passing over forged collectors’ items in Hong Kong. She meets the other residents of the Kingdom, including the energetic, yet mysterious Mali. This starts an unfolding story set amidst the fictional backdrop of growing protests, as both the Kingdom’s expatriate tenants and the local Thai staff evaluate what will happen next.
With the exception of Singapore and Malaysia, where English is relatively widely used, and with the further exception of so-called “expat fiction” featuring foreign protagonists, Southeast Asia seemingly generates fewer novels in English—whether in translation or written directly in the language—than other regions of South and East Asia. This situation has ameliorated somewhat in recent years, a period that has coincided with the rise of a regional Southeast Asian culture and media market. Southeast Asian publishers are increasing sourcing and marketing books regionally.
American Sarah Mullins, an erstwhile mousy brunette turned blue-eyed blonde, has just pulled off an obscure literary fraud, netting a suitcase of cash and needing a place to hide out, which is why Lawrence Osborne’s most recent novel opens in a luxury apartment in an upscale residential tower block in Bangkok known as “The Kingdom”.
What do you do with a gang of monks who have been condemned to death for immorality? If you are King Rama II of Siam (1809-24), you commute their sentences to hard labor, which consists of making them cut grass for your elephants every day. This is one example of the sometimes quirky humanity of the Chakri Dynasty, which, as royal houses go, is a relative newcomer, having been founded only in 1784.
Even if Philip Jablon had kept strictly to his original premise of documenting Thailand’s purpose-built movie theatres—an obsession he claims first took hold in 2008—this volume would’ve filled a worthy niche. From the book’s earliest temple of celluloid, Bangkok’s Prince Theatre from 1912, Jablon’s photographs capture a wealth of 20th-century architectural styles, from Bangkok’s tropical art deco Scala Theatre (built in 1969) to the brutalist Siri Phanom Rama Theatre (built in 1979) in Chachoengsao Province, each filtered through a distinct Southeast Asian sensibility.
Well-researched and easy to follow, Patcharin Lapanum’s Love, Money and Obligation: Transnational Marriage in a Northeastern Thai Village is a powerful reminder of how interconnected the world has become—and how love can emerge between the most disparate of individuals.