Pira Sudham – a Son of Isan, writing in English about his life in the North-East of Thailand
Pira Sudham’s name had long been on my ‘to read’ list, but somehow, I had never seen his copies when out scouring the shelves at book shops. However, following to a recently enjoyably sojourn perusing the packed shelves at Canterbury Tales Bookshop in Pattaya, resulted in finding at autographed copy of Monsoon Country.
Pira’s life started, as so many, in a remote village in Isan and his description of his early childhood paints almost a utopian memory whilst barely surviving in what must have been poverty. For his age, he was one of the lucky ones, his troubled teacher could see potential in this quiet and brooding child and was able to secure him further education by being a servant to a wise Buddhist monk in Bangkok.
His life completely changed when he won scholarship to study English language and literature and whilst this provided him with opportunities to travel extensively, he remained a son of Isan.
It is a wonderful and poignantly written book, dealing with his life from 1954 to 1980 it portrays his life’s journey from poverty to high society in Europe with conflicting Thai and Western values including insights into the tragic student movements of the 1970’s.
At times the author is extremely frustrating often leaving conversations half spoken or the hospitality of guests without a farewell or a thank you. However, each chapter is rewarding covering so many aspects of simple life, the challenges of high society and the changes that continuously abound at all stages of our lives.
I have a love for the simplicity and way of life in Isan, and whilst not as extensively travelled as many others, I have experienced the images and the apparent acceptance of a life of endurance, that many have. This was much worse then, that it is now, 50 years later but the memories still remain.
The highlights for me were to read the stories of a Son of Isan, a Thai, writing in English rather than a foreigner’s view. His words bring a poignant view of this terrible beauty. You will share his love of his old water buffalo who was so much part of his early childhood. You will start to appreciate the hierarchy of village life, the corruption and life changing attitudes of merchants and the mixed emotions of the student uprisings that were fortunately (for us) overruled by faith.
On his return to Thailand as a stranger in his own country we witness a scene in a Bangkok nightlife area where some Thais group together to rob an innocent tourist, poor Pira receives quite a hiding whilst trying to protect one of his ‘Western’ brothers, from his natural brothers and sisters.
The Introduction is quite hard work as written by a highly respected Professor of English and Linguistics. Do persevere, as it is an amazing text that introduces you to the life of Pira Sudham and the reasons for his particular style of writing.
I loved the book and if you really want to know more about the mindset of the sons and daughters from Isan you will learn so much and possibility be inspired by their endurance and acceptance of life.
Pira Sudham, Monsoon Country first published in 1993
I was lucky to obtain this autographed copy of Monsoon Country at the Canterbury Book Shop in Pattaya , a veritable emporium with 1,000s of second hand books of every genre.
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand.
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