Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle, Victoria Vorreiter (Resonance Press, July 2022)
Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle, Victoria Vorreiter (Resonance Press, July 2022)

High in the mountains of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar once knew no boundaries, lives a rich multiplicity of traditional peoples. Prominent among them are the Karen, Hmong, Iu Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu, six distinct groups who have maintained their independence, identity, and worldview to a high degree.

Before becoming king on the death of his half-brother King Nangklao (Rama III), Prince Mongkut (later Rama IV) of Siam had written a confidential letter in English on the subject of establishing a British embassy in Bangkok to intermediaries of the diplomatic envoy Sir James Brooke (later Rajah of Sarawak). Mongkut explained that such an embassy would not likely happen under Nangklao, because “Siam is now of most absolute monarchy in the world, in which monarchy one’s oppinion [sic] is no use.” He went on to say further that regular people were “equal of animals and vegitables [sic] in the kingdom,” which wasn’t exactly encouraging either. However, Mongkut, unlike the far more intransigent Nangklao, was known to be a man of great perception and intelligence, and while Brooke’s mission ultimately failed, “without King Mongkut’s benign influence and open attitude, the fate of Siam at the hands of the British and other western powers could have been very different.”

Chariot of the Sun, disingenuously subtitled “An Informal History of a Siamese Family”, stands out from the recent plethora of  run-of-the-mill or self-serving memoirs and biographies by very much being neither.  Here we can meet an utterly fascinating variety of people, a number of whom occupied positions of power, but also some who didn’t, and they’re all revealed through what Nic Dunlop tells us on the back cover, “storytelling that revels in the fragmentary and the anecdotal.” This is a different kind of memoir; the main “character” isn’t so much the writer himself, but a selection of family members evocatively presented through stories and photographs that are linked by a narrative about an ancient prophecy (no spoiling here!). Bunnag begins with the 2011 earthquake and ends with a tree (the name Bunnag means “tree”) and a placenta, hopping backwards and forwards in time as he goes, employing full use of his skills as a documentary film-maker.

Graphic novels are taken more seriously in Europe than in the English-speaking world, and so it is perhaps not surprising that The King of Bangkok, a socio-political-historical narrative based on ten years of ethnographic research by anthropologist Claudio Sopranzetti, first appeared in Italian. Although a “novel” in the sense it’s fictionalized, the elements (say the authors) are based on real people and real events: the result is a sort of distillation of recent Thai social history. 

Thai Politics in Translation: Monarchy, Democracy and the Supra-constitution,  Michael K Connors (ed), Ukrist Pathmanand (ed) (NIAS Press, October 2021)
Thai Politics in Translation: Monarchy, Democracy and the Supra-constitution, Michael K Connors (ed), Ukrist Pathmanand (ed) (NIAS Press, October 2021)

Since Thailand’s political crisis began with royalist mobilization against prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005, observers have been treated to easy clichés about reactionary Thai elites. The chapters in this book invite readers to refrain from quick judgement and engage with the conservative norms of sections of the middle class, military, intellectuals and state ideologues.

At the start of Ira Sukrungruang’s new book, This Jade World, he’s about to meet a new woman in a hotel room while his wife is packing her things to walk out on their marriage. This is going to be an open and honest memoir, a journey that will conclude with lessons learned and a new lease on life. Along the way, Sukruangruang writes about Asian masculinity, women’s relationships, and how his Chicago upbringing was shaped by his divorced Thai immigrant parents.