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Letters from Thailand

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When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO Prize for Thai Literature. This new English translation reveals it as one of Thailand's most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand. Letters from Thailand is the story of When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO Prize for Thai Literature. This new English translation reveals it as one of Thailand's most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand. Letters from Thailand is the story of Tan Suang U, a young man who leaves China to make his fortune in Thailand at the close of World War II, and ends up marrying, raising a family, and operating a successful business. The novel unfolds through his letters to his beloved mother in China. In Tan Suang U's lively account of his daily life in Bangkok's bustling Chinatown, larger and deeper themes emerge: his determination to succeed at business in this strange new culture; his hopes for his family; his resentment at how easily his children embrace urban Thai culture at the expense of the Chinese heritage which he holds dear; his inability to understand or adopt Thai ways; and his growing alienation from a society that is changing too fast for him.


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When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO Prize for Thai Literature. This new English translation reveals it as one of Thailand's most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand. Letters from Thailand is the story of When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO Prize for Thai Literature. This new English translation reveals it as one of Thailand's most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand. Letters from Thailand is the story of Tan Suang U, a young man who leaves China to make his fortune in Thailand at the close of World War II, and ends up marrying, raising a family, and operating a successful business. The novel unfolds through his letters to his beloved mother in China. In Tan Suang U's lively account of his daily life in Bangkok's bustling Chinatown, larger and deeper themes emerge: his determination to succeed at business in this strange new culture; his hopes for his family; his resentment at how easily his children embrace urban Thai culture at the expense of the Chinese heritage which he holds dear; his inability to understand or adopt Thai ways; and his growing alienation from a society that is changing too fast for him.

30 review for Letters from Thailand

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stan

    Hard to praise this book enough. I have no idea how it reads in Thai (maybe one day I'll find out), but it is beautifully translated and a fantastically well told story. A moving picture of Thailand and Chinese immigrants in the Post WWII period. This is one absolutely greaaaatttt book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Oria

    *Note: A friend asked me, not long ago, if I had read any Thai literature. I had to say no. Even though I've been living in The Land of Smiles for years, I had never actually read a book by a Thai author. Surely, I said to myself, there must be some translated books out there, but having found them, which should I choose? I picked 'Letters from Thailand' mainly because I liked the title. There's something very personal about a book based on letters. And so my journey began... "My Most Beloved and *Note: A friend asked me, not long ago, if I had read any Thai literature. I had to say no. Even though I've been living in The Land of Smiles for years, I had never actually read a book by a Thai author. Surely, I said to myself, there must be some translated books out there, but having found them, which should I choose? I picked 'Letters from Thailand' mainly because I liked the title. There's something very personal about a book based on letters. And so my journey began... "My Most Beloved and Respected Mother...." This is how 'Letters from Thailand' begins, simple yet so powerful one cannot help but be instantly moved. The book is written in the epistolary style, comprised of 96 letters, from 1945 to 1967, all dated according to the Chinese calendar. It tells the story of Tan Suang U, a Chinese immigrant, his journey to Thailand, his hope for a better life, his determination and courage and most of all, his unfailing love and devotion to the mother he left behind. Luck and a lot of hard work are the keys to Suang U's fortune. Adjusting to his new life proves to be a challenge he is perfectly capable of overcoming. He has friends who help him and before long he is married and running a profitable business. His letters are an account of his life in Thailand, from bathing in the khlong at sunrise, to dealing with his Thai employees. The main theme of the novel is that of the immigrant trying to build a better life for himself, while at the same time holding on to the traditions of his own people. That proves to be very difficult for Suang U, as the times change and he finds himself alone in a world of people who have adapted and try to live with the changes. Suang U clings to the old ways, trying to instill in his own children the education he was given as a child in the Chinese village of Po Leng. He frequently remembers passages from childhood and thanks his mother for the way in which she has raised him and Younger Brother. The narrative flows easily and the story is told from a single perspective, that of Suang U, keeping things simple and orderly. The book was translated from Thai and the translator did a very good job, as there are no disparaging paragraphs or ideas, and ties the whole story into a coherent and believable experience. On a more personal note: Having lived in Thailand for years, I could relate to a lot of the experiences the main character went through and I found myself laughing out loud in places and nodding my head quite a few times, for many of the stories he committed to paper all those years ago are still valid to this day. Reading this book made me remember the day I arrived in Bangkok. The heat was the first thing I got to experience. That moment when I stepped out the airport was my first and one of the strongest memories about Thailand. Within minutes my shirt was sticking to my back and my skin felt clammy and hot and I found it difficult to breathe. Many years have passed since then. I got used to the heat and humidity (not a fan of cold weather anyway) and many other things, like the spicy food, geckos running up the walls in the house, the snakes and monitor lizards in the yard, and the list goes on. For someone who has never been to Thailand this book can be a good place to start finding out about the country. Even though no amount of reading can compare with the experience of living here, 'Letters from Thailand' is a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to get an idea of what life can be like in The Land of Smiles.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sovatha

    It is said in the introduction that this book was based on the actual letters written for over twenty years by a Chinese migrant who came to work in Bangkok. So technically, it's not a fiction. But this book reads pretty much like a very good novel that would get you hooked to it after you finish the first few pages. It starts from when this Chinese migrant, whose pseudonym is Sang U, was on the boat from China and goes all the way up and down through his life in Bangkok until more than 20 years It is said in the introduction that this book was based on the actual letters written for over twenty years by a Chinese migrant who came to work in Bangkok. So technically, it's not a fiction. But this book reads pretty much like a very good novel that would get you hooked to it after you finish the first few pages. It starts from when this Chinese migrant, whose pseudonym is Sang U, was on the boat from China and goes all the way up and down through his life in Bangkok until more than 20 years later. The thing is that of this period of time he was writing these letters to his mum in China, he never received any reply back from her. How a person can keep writing letters for 20 years without getting a reply back? Only Saeng U knows the answer. I thought it was a good 'novel' to read in that it shows the actual emotion, and feeling of a Chinese man determined to build his fortune, life and family in a new land while trying to hold on tight to his Chinese identity and tradition. He was successful in a number of things, business is one of them; and not successful in others - raising his son to meet his expectation is an example. In a way, these letters were the means to vent his frustration when things do not go the ways he wanted, and his means to share his joy when things were falling into place. Throughout these letters, you also get to learn about how this Chinese man viewed the Thai society and its people. It is well established that the Chinese have been successful in assimilating into Thai society. But it was not such an easy statement to make for Saeng U and we got to learn why in this book. Overall, a good read for anyone interested in a non-fiction, historical 'novel' (I put novel in parenthesis because it's not really a novel) and in overseas Chinese in Thailand.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Wow! What a fascinating book! I learned so much from this, especially how Chinese immigrants may have viewed the Thais and about Chinese ways of thinking. It's also a great story, actually even sort of epic. It's also quite a sad story. I really enjoyed this book!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    We just returned from a Christmas trip to Thailand last week. I read this book because my sister-in-law, also on the trip, bought it, and finished it on the flight home. I really wish I had read it before we got there, because it gave me a lot to think about, and I would have looked for items and locations mentioned. A lot of the "action" takes place on the main street in Chinatown, Bangkok, which we did visit. This is the story of a young Chinese man who emigrated to Thailand after WWII. But his We just returned from a Christmas trip to Thailand last week. I read this book because my sister-in-law, also on the trip, bought it, and finished it on the flight home. I really wish I had read it before we got there, because it gave me a lot to think about, and I would have looked for items and locations mentioned. A lot of the "action" takes place on the main street in Chinatown, Bangkok, which we did visit. This is the story of a young Chinese man who emigrated to Thailand after WWII. But his story is timeless and universal. The struggle for an immigrant to preserve his country's traditions; the struggle for a father to understand his children in a rapidly changing world...I saw a lot of my own family in Suang U's story. The tale is told through letters that Suang U writes to his mother in the old village. Over the years the letters become a type of therapy for him. The fact that (this is not a spoiler, it's in the prologue) his mother never sees the letters, and they are discovered years later, make the tale all the more poignant. This book was soundly protested when it was originally published: it discusses prejudices between Chinese and Thai. But they are discussed honestly throughout the book, and I am thankful that cooler heads prevailed, and this book became a best seller, able to be translated and sold abroad. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in family stories. The struggles, conflicts, and lessons learned can be applied to any culture, any race.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nisha Sachdev

    I couldn't put down the book. Letters from Thailand is the story of Tan Suang U, a young man who leaves China to make his fortune in Thailand at the close of World War II, and ends up marrying, raising a family, and operating a successful business. The novel unfolds through his letters to his beloved mother in China. In Tan Suang U’s lively account of his daily life in Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown, larger and deeper themes emerge: his determination to succeed at business in this strange new cultur I couldn't put down the book. Letters from Thailand is the story of Tan Suang U, a young man who leaves China to make his fortune in Thailand at the close of World War II, and ends up marrying, raising a family, and operating a successful business. The novel unfolds through his letters to his beloved mother in China. In Tan Suang U’s lively account of his daily life in Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown, larger and deeper themes emerge: his determination to succeed at business in this strange new culture; his hopes for his family; his resentment at how easily his children embrace urban Thai culture at the expense of the Chinese heritage which he holds dear; his inability to understand or adopt Thai ways; and his growing alienation from a society that is changing too fast for him.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jon Kapp

    A fantastic read as historical fiction and as a snapshot into Bangkok/Thailand at a particular time and place. The book transcends that place however to tell an immigrants story of coping with new culture and establishing individual identity in a new place.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    This is great. You should put it on your "to read" list.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Good portrait of Thai/Chinese relations and what Thailand was like a few decades ago.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lynda

    Written as letters to his mother over 40 years, the book follows a young man as he leaves China to move to Bangkok and the struggles to find his place in this new world, his prejudice against the Thai mentality towards work, the Thai prejudice against the Chinese as he finds a wife, raises children, loses a "father" who adopted him in Thailand and starts, grows and maintains a business. Over time his feelings towards his wife and family change, his is both disappointing as a father and disappoin Written as letters to his mother over 40 years, the book follows a young man as he leaves China to move to Bangkok and the struggles to find his place in this new world, his prejudice against the Thai mentality towards work, the Thai prejudice against the Chinese as he finds a wife, raises children, loses a "father" who adopted him in Thailand and starts, grows and maintains a business. Over time his feelings towards his wife and family change, his is both disappointing as a father and disappointed. He grows over the years and is able to accept that perhaps his views aren't in keeping with modern values as he ages. All the while with no word back from the mother he writes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gijs Grob

    In this epistolary novel Suang U, a Chinese immigrant in Bangkok writes letters to his mother in a small village in China. Through his letters we watch Suang U starting a career in Bangkok, falling in love, getting children, expanding his business, and watching his children grow up. Soon Suang U turns out to be a very conservative man, way too old fashioned for his years. Suang U is against ca. everything new, whether it be radio, cars or television. Moreover, he is appallingly anti-Thai, despit In this epistolary novel Suang U, a Chinese immigrant in Bangkok writes letters to his mother in a small village in China. Through his letters we watch Suang U starting a career in Bangkok, falling in love, getting children, expanding his business, and watching his children grow up. Soon Suang U turns out to be a very conservative man, way too old fashioned for his years. Suang U is against ca. everything new, whether it be radio, cars or television. Moreover, he is appallingly anti-Thai, despite Thailand being his new home country. Unfortunately, because of this his letters too often become endless complaints and rants of a grumpy man, giving the novel an unwanted repetitive character. Only in the end Suang U warms up, but by then much damage has been done. The poignancy of Botan's novel lies in the fact that Suang U with his strict conservative stance unwillingly severely hampers the lives of his offspring, which Botan shows between Suang U's lines with great subtlety. It's remarkable how lively she has portrayed this flawed and complex character, when she herself was only twenty years old. This is a real tour-de-force, even if the novel could use some (more) editing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jaisette

    Entertaining read. Though it's the life story of a Chinese immigrant trying to keep a hold of his culture while living his life in Thailand, I could relate to a lot of the traditions he clung to. I felt for the guy and his family and was intrigued by the strong female characters and the macho yet delicate nature of the main character.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Hughes

    I ordered this book in order to learn more about Thai culture by reading fiction, but instead I learned a great deal about the Chinese immigration experience in Thailand, and about Chinese culture. It was still a wonderful read. You will be quickly drawn into the narrator's family. It is written in first person as a series of letters to the author's mother in rural China.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shannen

    Wow! This one will be a repeat read in the future. I happened upon this book for sale at my local Friends of the Library and I am ever grateful for it. Beautiful, poignant and fascinating. If you can somehow find a copy of this one, I recommend it. Would love to do this one as a book club book because there are so many things to talk about. A happy find indeed!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rene

    I read this book many years ago, but I remember vividly that it impressed me very much. It was the first novel I read by a Thai author. Several have followed since. The novel is about Thai-Chinese relations and it is written in the form of letters. I found this a very good choice. It makes the book a more realistic.

  16. 4 out of 5

    MeLita

    As a Indonesian-Chinese who has been to Thailand for 8 years, this book is 'ok' interesting. It shows me a lot of where my background or my family background comes from. But overall i can only give 4 stars for this book because it's not written (or translated) too nicely… but after all it's letters, so it's probably understandable. And I don't find too much interesting new things in it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This is an awesome book! Especially for a perspective on living in Bangkok from WWII to the mid/late 1960s, through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant. I don't think there are many books that fall into that category. This was really interesting to me, as an expat in Bangkok.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sophara Iridescent

    Love it ! Very truthful & relatable. Love it ! Very truthful & relatable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bagus Anugerah Yoga

    I just random picked this book one day at a used bookstore in Jakarta. Why? Simply because I have never before read some literature written by a Thai. The book itself looks worn-out by ages. My copy is from 1991, even though the original book was published first in 1969. This book consists of 95 letters written by a Chinese migrant called Tan Suang U to her mother who lives in a village called Po Leng in China. The letters dated between 1945, the year Suang U left China, and 1967 when the letter I just random picked this book one day at a used bookstore in Jakarta. Why? Simply because I have never before read some literature written by a Thai. The book itself looks worn-out by ages. My copy is from 1991, even though the original book was published first in 1969. This book consists of 95 letters written by a Chinese migrant called Tan Suang U to her mother who lives in a village called Po Leng in China. The letters dated between 1945, the year Suang U left China, and 1967 when the letters turned out to be confiscated and never reached her mom in China. This is a book of everyday life, as it captured vividly the situation in Bangkok during the time. As the influx of Chinese migrants was still high in 1945 just after World War II. We can see how Botan described Suang U developed throughout the story. From the time he arrived in Bangkok as nobody who worked as a bookkeeper in someone's store, building up his business, raising his family, being confused by the ever dynamic changes in the society in which he lived, until the day he realised that there's nothing matters at the end of his life than accepting changes. The most important message in this book is that we need to cope up with changes and changes are unavoidable in life. There will always be new things, even 10 years from now. And our days in this world are numbered. We will never know what will happen to us and there's little incentives to be inflexible to things. This is a great book to start in reading Thai literature. It is written by Botan, whose real name is Supa Sirisingh. She was raised in a Chinese family with a father who was a first generation immigrant. The story sure feels like an autobiographical one. I guarantee that it won't disappoint any readers who seek meaning in life.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I’m lacking words to describe this book, the summary given of it explains it well enough though: A poor Chinese boy goes to Thailand to make a better life for himself and he writes letters periodically to his mother who is in China. We read of the many ups and downs as he strives to make a life for himself and his family. His greatest struggle is that he cannot learn to accept the Thai culture around him and is quite stereotypical in his sense of Chinese supremacy. You can’t help but love some p I’m lacking words to describe this book, the summary given of it explains it well enough though: A poor Chinese boy goes to Thailand to make a better life for himself and he writes letters periodically to his mother who is in China. We read of the many ups and downs as he strives to make a life for himself and his family. His greatest struggle is that he cannot learn to accept the Thai culture around him and is quite stereotypical in his sense of Chinese supremacy. You can’t help but love some parts of Suang U and bear with his failings. In the end there’s a bit for everyone to reflect on. Letters from Thailand is a charming story and worth reading! I’m glad I picked up this gem (believe it or not it was the only book in an entire English bookstore in Chiang Mai that was written by a Thai author.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Travelalong2

    What a delightful book. I enjoyed it a lot. It is completely different from Four Reigns. This book starts where Four Reigns end and shows that life in Bangkok goes on. This story is told by a Chinese who moved to Bangkok and tells about his life from a young man through to being a grandfather. The different perspectives are so interesting (how the Chinese see the Thai and vice verse). It also addresses the situation all immigrants find themselves in: do you strictly keep to your own (people, lang What a delightful book. I enjoyed it a lot. It is completely different from Four Reigns. This book starts where Four Reigns end and shows that life in Bangkok goes on. This story is told by a Chinese who moved to Bangkok and tells about his life from a young man through to being a grandfather. The different perspectives are so interesting (how the Chinese see the Thai and vice verse). It also addresses the situation all immigrants find themselves in: do you strictly keep to your own (people, language and culture) or do you embrace your new country's culture and do you try to blend in. Where is the line that says you have gone too far or you have not tried hard enough? Different characters in this book experience it differently.

  22. 5 out of 5

    OMalleycat

    Epistolary novel of a man, Tan Suang U, who immigrates from China to Thailand in the 1940’s. Through his letters to his mother we follow Suang U’s progress in establishing a business and family in a country with much anti-Chinese personal and institutional prejudice. Suang U fathers four children in Thailand and as they grow up, to his distress, they have varying fidelity to Chinese traditions and expectations. Suang U is also confronted with a rapidly changing world with wildly expanding challe Epistolary novel of a man, Tan Suang U, who immigrates from China to Thailand in the 1940’s. Through his letters to his mother we follow Suang U’s progress in establishing a business and family in a country with much anti-Chinese personal and institutional prejudice. Suang U fathers four children in Thailand and as they grow up, to his distress, they have varying fidelity to Chinese traditions and expectations. Suang U is also confronted with a rapidly changing world with wildly expanding challenges to traditional values. A heartfelt book that shows that no matter the country of origin or arrival, immigration is a universal experience of both opportunity and heartbreak.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Neath/Maddie

    3.8 stars The 0.3 is from that one part of the book that I cannot mention without spoiling. Anyway, I would never have picked this book up if it weren’t for my literature studies course. Even if I did, I would have dnf’d it 100 pages in because it was so slow. There were great character developments that I enjoyed, despite getting annoyed every 5 minutes throughout the whole book. It also took me ages to finish because I just didn’t care, at least for the first 300 pages. I cried at one point in t 3.8 stars The 0.3 is from that one part of the book that I cannot mention without spoiling. Anyway, I would never have picked this book up if it weren’t for my literature studies course. Even if I did, I would have dnf’d it 100 pages in because it was so slow. There were great character developments that I enjoyed, despite getting annoyed every 5 minutes throughout the whole book. It also took me ages to finish because I just didn’t care, at least for the first 300 pages. I cried at one point in the last hundred pages, so that’s that.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Concordian Library

    25 copies Available: Used in Language and Literature unit on Identity 2019-2020 Asia Focus

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adam Preston

    Interesting reading for anyone with close connection to Thailand. It’s always difficult to find quality reading about Thailand in English language. I’ve been here 17 years and first read this book about 10 years ago. This was my second reading and found it just as fascinating.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Frank

    4.5 stars This was a book I had to read for one of my courses in school, but I actually ended up really enjoying it and caring very much about the characters. It's a great piece on showing the changing social history of Thailand in the 20th century, especially in regards to the Chinese in Thailand.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This is a fascinating book which provides insight in everyday life in Bangkok's Chinatown. I paid a visit to Chinatown in 1995 and I've been able to still take in the overall atmosphere captured in this book. Highly recommended!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ming

    slow paced... certainly interesting from the standpoint of ethnic Chinese, of a certain era, who immigrated to Thailand... I read till page 236 and read several books in the interim.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    The book covers recent modern Thailand from 1946 to 1966. It's a very fascinating look at the life of a Chinese immigrant. I really enjoyed it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    An amazing book that tells of life as an immigrant. Explained a lot about the integration of Chinese people in Thailand.

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