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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

This Is Thailand

On the ‘Thailand’ shelves at Bookazine are many books, but ‘This is Thailand’ caught my eye with a wonderfully detailed cover shot of the mythical figures on guard at Wat Phra Keo in Bangkok.
‘This is Thailand’, ISBN 1-85974-465-6, is published by Asia Books, with the editorial content by John Hoskin and photography by Gerald Cubitt. That was the next item to catch my eye and was the name John Hoskin on the cover, a man whose writing on Thailand is of legend. Any publication with Hoskin on board is always very readable and factual.
As opposed to the many photo-books with some words under the picture as explanation, at least half of this book is editorial, with occasional photographs as illustrations. An important difference.
The book begins with a handy map of Thailand, showing the majority of the land mass being enclosed by Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. It is sometimes too easy to forget just how close we are to our neighbors.
Hoskin covers the land, the wildlife, the history of Thailand, the people of Thailand, culture and beliefs, food and drink, sports and entertainment, the visual arts, the performing arts, literature, crafts and an overview of Thailand from north to south.
He then goes on to introduce various geographical areas of Thailand, covering the hill tribes in the north, the central plains and the west, Bangkok and its environs, the greater Mekong region, the eastern seaboard and the south of Thailand.
Returning to the detailed historical coverage, this is handled very well by Hoskin who begins around 3,600 BC with the Ban Chiang pottery finds, and wends his way through the progressive immigration of the Indian influence, Chinese, Khmer, Mon and Laotian.
The present day written Thai language has evolved from a south Indian script via Mon and Khmer writing, with the alphabet formalized in the 13th century. As Hoskin wryly writes, “words are not separated within sentences and punctuation is minimal.”
The recent history up to the present day (though not including the rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra) is also well explained going from the absolute monarchy to the constitutional one which exists today.
Hoskin also covers the apparent dichotomy of Buddhism and animism, and just how the supernatural still holds sway within the local peoples. He even explains just how tattoos get their power, and how the tattoo can be rendered powerless. Fascinating.
At B. 750 this is not a cheap read, especially as it is still a soft cover book, albeit printed in color on high quality stock. However, it is the quality of the editorial that helps elevate this book. Cubitt’s photographs are very good, but I have seen equally as good work from many other photographers whose photography is used in the plethora of photo-books on the shelves.
This is really an excellent book to send to relatives overseas. It does paint Thailand in a good light, and does feature many of the ‘touristy’ places we all visited on our first trips (and have avoided since then). However, one should let one’s relatives experience the breathtaking beauty of many of Thailand’s destinations.