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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Monsoon Country

Monsoon Country (ISBN 974-89067-3-6, Shire Asia, Mahanaga Edition 2002) was written a little while ago by Pira Sudham, a world renowned writer who was born in a small village (Napo) in Buriram.
His life is one of which movies should be made. The son of a poor farmer, he became a temple boy when he was 14 years old and sold artifacts to tourists to put himself through university. Following his winning of a scholarship to New Zealand, his career never looked back, becoming a well known and respected author, writing in the English language and was nominated for a Nobel prize in literature in 1990.
Pira Sudham came to understand that something had been missing from his life - and that was not money, but the concept of questioning. Discussing his education in New Zealand, he said, “I also learned a process of reasoning, which is not taught to the majority of Thai children from the beginning.” So many years later he believes that if that had been in his early education he would have then posed “a threat to the authorities and the despots, who had an awesome power over the Thai people, at the time.”
Pira Sudham bases all his characters in the book on real people from the area, and even names the 16 martyrs who together comprise one of the characters.
The book covers the son of impoverished and illiterate rice farmers, who give their son to be a temple boy in Bangkok. A studious lad, he was helped by his primary school teacher and the monk he was to tend for in Bangkok, eventually winning a scholarship to continue his education overseas.
Pira Sudham is no stranger to the Thai ruling classes and in this book he describes the Customs Department as the most corrupt department in the country. No wonder he has not won friends in that area!
The book follows the boy’s life into adulthood and shows the problems that ensue once away from the family roots, and what occurs when even daring to seek self improvement.
Pira Sudham should be an example for every country person from Isaan - despite dirt poverty, it is possible to extricate one’s self and rise above one’s roots. This book is not just a tale of someone who ‘made good’, it is a book so beautifully written it is almost difficult to believe that this was written by a native of Buriram. Though written some time ago, the Isaan region is still one of the poorest areas of Thailand, and after reading this book, it is easy to see why Communism can still be an undercurrent. That more privileged people should ‘buy’ the area is a disgrace.
Will Pira Sudham change the Thai society? Probably not, but he will at least have made people more aware of the real situation. As you will be, after you have read it. By the way, the review copy from Bookazine in the Royal Garden Plaza had been personally signed by the author. It is now back on the shelf waiting for you, and at B. 450 is a literary bargain.