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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

People of Esarn

Another book from the champion of the Esarn poor, Pira Canning Sudham. Having previously written Tales of Thailand, Monsoon Country and The Force of Karma, this latest is an updated version of the People of Thailand, with the subtitle ‘The Damned of Thailand’ and with a small addition ‘The Kingdom in Conflicts’.
Pira Canning Sudham is very well qualified to write on behalf of the Esarn dwellers, having come from an impoverished family in Napo, Buriram province. As a small boy he toiled in the rice paddies alongside his parents, but when aged 14 he was ‘indentured’ to a Buddhist monk and was sent to Bangkok as a temple boy. This was not because he showed any particular spiritual leaning, but because the family was too poor to be able to continue to feed him. I am sure that none of the readers of this book has had to endure such hardships. It was during his time as a temple boy that the opportunity of experiencing further education was made available, and Pira showed himself to be a very bright student and managed to throw off his past from rural Thailand. His intellectual abilities took him to New Zealand, Australia and the UK; however, despite the opportunity to turn his back on his past he took upon himself the mantle of championing his people and began his writing in the UK where he wrote two of his books.
This new book, like all of his books, has an all-pervading air of sadness running through the beautiful descriptions of the various facets of the rural life of the Esarn people. That life is not to be envied, and in fact, the vast majority of the privileged readers would not be able to endure the hardships of an Esarn taxi driver in Bangkok and the roadside food-seller, or the centenarian (rara avis in Esarn), or the Buddhist novice or the farmer and his wife - all of whose lives are scrutinized and displayed with empathy in this book.
The depth of the corruption indicated by Pira Canning Sudham is astounding. He indicts successive governments, police, government officials and prime ministers for the oppression of his people, and for the farang outsider it is difficult not to want to do ‘something’ - but what? I have the feeling that the author just wants us to ‘understand’ what has happened to the rural poor, how they are downtrodden and how some of their behavior, previously inexplicable, relates to the dirt poverty they are made to endure.
There are many detailed case histories in the book, particularly of people who have perished while protesting the oppression. Unfortunately most of these are from the early 1990’s, and being almost 20 years ago have lost some immediacy or impact. Author Pira has tried to bring the book up to date at the end of the book, with mention of the 2006 coup and veiled references to the deposed ex-prime minister Thaksin, but I was looking for more hard facts.
Available at B. 395 at Bookazine, compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to understand Esarn and its people.