Saturday, August 07, 2010

Summer Reading List

I have been plowing through our “suggested reading,” 4 books recommended by Brock in preparation for our trip.  Each one so far has focused on a different aspect of Thailand.
Perhaps my favorite will be “Letters from Thailand,” a collection of 96 letters written by a Chinese immigrant to Thailand to his mother back home in rural China over a period of 20+ years.
In the first chapter the reader is told that not even one of the letters, often filled with money, was ever delivered to the poor mother in all that time.  Instead a corrupt Chinese mail censor kept the letters (and the money) for his own amusement.
The letters are a study in assimilation -- the struggles of Suang U to hold onto his Chinese customs in his new land, while trying to establish himself in business and provide for his wife and family.
He makes no pretenses about wanting male children, but in fact is seriously disappointed in Weng Khim, his first-born and only son, who never manages to live up to his father’s expectations.  He resents the fact that his other three children are girls and that his wife is then no longer able to bear children.  
He marries a beauty, but ends up in a loveless marriage with a wife who insists on the latest of everything while she becomes increasingly fat.
Two female characters stand out.  Ang Buai is his sister-in-law, who took over her father’s business before she was 20 and managed to be quite successful, remaining unmarried into her 30’s and having an opinion about everything.  Meng Chu is his youngest daughter, whom he always blamed for the loss of his wife’s fertility because of her problematic birth.  He finally comes to understand her insistence on getting an education and grooming herself to do more in life than just get married.
The last segment of the book is about Suang U’s gradual acceptance of Meng Chu’s Thai husband, who manages finally to dispel all the old myths Suang U has long held about the Thai people.
The Chinese today are an important part of Thai society.  I will look at them with new eyes having read this wonderful book.


Blogger Kristin said...

What a great way to prepare for the trip! I enjoy reading both fiction and nonfiction related to a place before, during and immediately after a trip. It adds a certain texture and richness that otherwise would be missing.

11:37 PM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

I've never heard of that book, but I'm going to check it out! It sounds wonderful!

6:57 PM  

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