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Books On/About Thailand

It's typically the outsider looking in

It's typically the outsider looking in

“If you like to read and you like Thailand, there’s a decent chance you’ll like to read books about Thailand.” Doug Knell, Doug’s Republic

Those wishing to find out about the cultures of the United States, England, Germany or Russia can find classic works of literature written by native authors and read them in translation in one’s own language.  Not so for Thailand and plenty of other Asian nations.

There are a plethora of books about Thailand or stories set in Thailand, but these are typically written by non-Thais about a foreigner’s trials and tribulations in the Kingdom.  There are not a notable number of Thai equivalents to Tom Sawyer, Great Expectations, or Crime and Punishment that have been translated into dozens of languages and read by citizens abroad. The most famous Thai-based story probably remains The English Governess At The Siam Court, Anna Leonowens’ heavily embellished account of her 5-years teaching English.  You might say she started the underpaid trend of teaching English in the Kingdom.  Her accounts later became the movies THE KING AND I (1956) and ANNA AND THE KING (1999).  These ‘memoirs’ and the movies based on them are so altered from real history, they may as well be taken as fiction.  It’s completely understandable the Leonowens’ movies are banned in Thailand.  It’d be as if a Thai wrote an “autobiography” about her life as a maid in Abraham Lincoln’s White House in which Lincoln fell in love with her.  Later, the Thais make a movie about the book casting Thais in the roles of Americans and feature a completely bald and infantile Abraham Lincoln!

Maybe it’s that Thai cinema, television, and, for purposes of this discussion, prose doesn’t export — that the topics Thais find interesting don’t resonate with outsiders.  Hence, outsiders write their own books about Thailand for outsiders.  More often than not, it’s foreign works that are imported and translated into Thai.   Thailand’s national epic is the Ramakien, but this is just a version of the Indian Ramayana.

[Click the picture to read the rest of this brilliant article]

Categories : Thailand



Hi Doug, this is a great topic where I can add a few bits. Herbert P. Phillips published a book with the Univ. of Hawaii in 1987 called, Modern Thai Literature. It’s divided into several sections: Politics, Family, Social Values, etc…and Phillips writes an excellent introduction to each section. Each chapter has about five stories, plays or poems. All written by Thais translated into English.
Another anthology worth reading and written by Thais is: The SEA Write Anthology of Thai Short Stories and Poems, edited Nitaya Masavisuth. The SEA Write is the Pulitzer of SE Asia and this small anthology features many of the winners.
And finally I have written one of those novels from the pov of a foreigner academic. It’s available on Amazon and accessible from my website. Cheers!


Hi Doug: I would say you should have mentioned Christopher G. Moore’s 14 Vincent Calvino detective novels (1992-present) and his Land of Smiles trilogy, as being the only major body of writing about Thailand in English. Furthermore, you can learn about every aspect of modern Thai society and its farang subculture; in fact his novels contain more information than any number of websites, blogs and so forth.

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