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.
While the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is perhaps the figure most associated with the development of modern Thailand, two-time Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun has had a large influence on the country’s development. Anand stands out as an upstanding, liberal figure who steered well clear of corruption and scandals. As Thailand embarks on a new era under a new king, Dominic Faulder’s recent biography of Anand provides timely background.
Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s story of Bangkok is the most complete and engrossing tale of this megacity of fifteen million souls ever portrayed in a single publication. His debut novel Bangkok Wakes to Rain is as much an ode to the metropolis’s extremes as it is to the wide-ranging and singular characters that animate its streets and sois.
Brian Eyler isn’t a fan of dams, perhaps any of them, but at least not those that are, or may be, on the Mekong.