There are a number of great books either written by Thai authors or set in Thailand itself. This list of Thai books will cover both.
Here’s the list in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing:
- Four reigns – Kukrit Pramoj
- Bangkok 8 – John Burdett
- The Beach – Alex Garland
- Sightseeing – Rattawut Lapcharoensap
- Fieldwork – Mischa Berlinski
- The Bridge Over The River Kwai – Pierre Boulle
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Thai Books – A list
Note: The list is in no particular order.
This was the first book I read when I arrived in Thailand.
Its author had an amazing life. He was the great-grandson of King Rama II. However, not content with resting on the family name, he went to study at Oxford University before returning and becoming Prime Minister of Thailand in 1975.
Four Reigns is a historical epic that covers the reigns of four kings from King Rama V to King Rama VIII. The central protagonist is a woman called Phloi and it follows her all the way from her early childhood, to her time in the royal service, through marriage and raising children, and ultimately the end of her life.
The drama in the story is fascinating; however, the book is a classic because of its philosophical underpinnings. It’s important to remember that Pramoj was a politician; in some ways, this book is his thesis. It focuses heavily on what traditional Thainess means, which usually involves some combination of loyalty to monarchy, religion, family and nation.
It is highly recommended for those who want to drill deep down into the Thai collective unconscious but not so good as a light read.
This is the polar opposite of the last book discussed and is designed for thrilling, easy reading. It has everything you might expect from a modern detective story: a good cop, a whole host of bad cops, prostitution, a beautiful Thai woman, the FBI, priceless artwork, and an opening scene where someone is locked in a car with a poisonous snake. There are also two follow-ups to get stuck into if you enjoyed this.
Undoubtedly the most famous book written about Thailand, the first work from acclaimed writer Alex Garland, the Beach is the quintessential backpacker novel. It follows a young guy who arrives in Bangkok and after a mysterious meeting with a deranged man discovers that there’s an island commune of adventurers in the South.
Who wouldn’t want to start society again with a clean slate in a Thai beach paradise? Of course, things are never that straightforward when human beings are involved.
You might have already seen the movie with Leonardo Dicaprio. Still, the book is worth exploring for Garland’s writing style and the much deeper philosophical meanings that the format allows you to explore.
This is perhaps the most curious entry on the list because the author seems to have disappeared since it was written. It’s an excellent short story collection that deserves a full-length novel to back it up.
Sightseeing is an eclectic bunch of seven short stories focusing on modern-day Thailand. The collection includes everything from cockfighting to holiday romance. It’s quite a quick read, and I’d recommend it if you’re interested in how young, modern Thai people think.
This was probably the biggest surprise for me on the list because it didn’t come up on other recommendation lists. It was, in fact, a colleague at work who pointed it out in the English library of a school we worked.
Its themes were things I’m interested in, like anthropology, Christian missionaries, and the mountain people around Chiang Mai. It is a must-read for anyone traveling around or living in Northern Thailand. My personal opinion was that the ending was a little disappointing. If you read it, let me know what you think in the comments.
This one is quite personal because my great-grandfather was captured in Thailand and worked on the railway the book describes. Pierre Boulle, the author, was also a prisoner so the book is straight from the horrifying source.
It is a brutal depiction of work conditions in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Kanchanaburi during World War II. Although it has themes like war and comradeship, perhaps the most intriguing is how as humans we fall in love with our creations regardless of their moral purpose.
You might recognize the author’s other work which couldn’t be further from this- ‘The Planet of The Apes.’
N.B. The language in this book is very racist, so if this is a problem for you I’d give it a miss.
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