"Recreates the experience of living in Thailand's aqueous climate so viscerally that you can feel the water rising around your ankles." —Ron Charles, Washington Post
"Important, ambitious, and accomplished." —Mohsin Hamid, New York Times bestselling author of Exit West
A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary fate. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the house's resident spirits. In the present, a young woman tries to outpace the long shadow of her political past. And in a New Krungthep yet to come, savvy teenagers row tourists past landmarks of the drowned old city they themselves do not remember. Time collapses as these lives collide and converge, linked by the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibious, ever-morphing capital itself. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an elegy for what time erases and a love song to all that persists, yearning, into the unknowable future.
Sudbanthad's meditative debut drifts back and forth through time, evoking Bangkok past, present, and future. Loosely woven narratives follow Nee, a girl whose lover is killed during anti-government protests in 1973, as she navigates life in a melancholy city bleeding out its ancient culture. In one story, Nee is estranged from her sister Nok after she discovers Nok's restaurant in Japan buys its Thai ingredients from a corrupt ex-colonel. In another, Nee goes to work managing a high-rise condo, the lobby of which is a colonial-style Thai house the heart of this novel once owned by one of the building's wealthy elderly residents. When the old woman's son comes home from abroad, he and Nee begin a disastrous affair. Interspersed among Nee's stories (which are not presented chronologically) are beautifully wrought tales of a doctor-missionary in old Siam, whose Western faith morphs into enlightenment with the help of witch doctors, cholera, and despair. Occasionally birds will narrate a story or an aging American jazz musician, another foreigner seduced by Krungthep, the name the Thai people use to describe their city. Though this novel's ambitious architecture disparate stories in shifting eras can sometimes work against its considerable strengths, all of Sudbanthad's characters live and breathe with authenticity, and his prose is deeply moving, making for an evocative debut.
This is Thailand in words, in tone, in everything.
This book is Krungthep.
It is the people, the ghosts, the noise, the smells, the history. And it is also the gentle voice of the Thai. It is of course special to those of us who love Krungthep.
But it’s also for anyone who desires interesting characters, vast historical landscape and a glimpse into a place as full of wonder & contradictions as is Thailand.
I can’t recommend it more highly.
And it’s this guy’s 1st novel. Wow...just wow.