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Thread: Thai Novels

  1. #1
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    Thai Novels

    I've already posted this in the Kitchen section. I'm not really sure what's the best forum for this.

    One of my favourite Thai novels is "A child of the Northeast (ลูกอีสาน)" by Kampoon Boontawee. Written in 1976 it's a deeply moving story of the lives of an Isaan family in the 1930's. The book contains many wonderful, happy and sad, descriptions of Isaan life and culture, from folk beliefs to mor lam at the temple, from hunger, drought and emigration to family meals made from the sparse pickings of the Isaan countryside. Even though the book is a classic of modern Thai literature, has won several major prizes, and even been made into a movie it's not very well known outside Thailand. It's still in print but I've rarely seen the English language translation on sale anywhere else but secondhand bookstores.

    A recent post about making laarb reminded me of this book and I thought people might enjoy this description of preparing laarb in a 1930's Isaan household. As with many of the scenes in this book you could see pretty much the same scene in may parts of the North and Northeast today.

    The main character in the book is a young boy named Koon. He lives in a poverty-stricken village with his mother and father, who are never referred to by name, and his two younger sisters, Yee-Soon and Boonlai. The book is written in the Isaan dialect.

    Koon's father is about to take a trip to the forest to gather grasses to rebuild the roof of their house.

    --

    When Koon begged to go with him, to look for cicadas and snakes, his father said no and Koon knew that he would not change his mind. He wandered into the kitchen to see what his mother was doing.

    "I want to go with Papa."
    "Papa would take you, Koon, but he's only going to gather thatch. If he was going to the knoll, where you went before, I'm sure he'd take you."
    "Do you really think so?"
    "I'm sure. He told me that the day you went with him you didn't complain at all, not even when you were tired and thirsty."

    Koon was very pleased to hear that. "Can I help you make jaew for Papa?"
    "No jaew today, I'm going to make laarb from pla ra because Papa won't have time to catch cicadas or lizards to eat with jaew. It'll be easier for him to pick some Neem or Jik leaves to eat with laarb."

    Koon had often seen his mother prepare laarb and so he went to get the chopping block. She reached for the jar of pla ra and removed the plug she had made from a handful of charcoal wrapped in a rag. then she pulled out four or five pieces of pla ra, each the size of her little finger, and laid tehm on the chopping board in front of Koon.

    "You chop them."
    "Why do you have to put that rag with charcoal in it on top of the jar?", Koon asked, looking curiously at the little bag. "What if you used something else?"
    "No", she said, shaking her head. "You can't use anything else, The flies hate charcoal. If I put something else in the mouth of the jar they'll lay eggs there."
    "Oh", sid Koon, and began to chop the fish with a satisfying thunk! Thunk!
    "Not so hard", said his mother, "the small pieces will fall on the floor. We don't have much."

    Koon chopped more carefully. When the fish was minced his mother added two stalks of lemon grass and slices of fresh young galangal to the neat pile on the chopping block. Koon kept chopping and after a few minutes his mother added a handful of dried green onions and fresh chilli peppers. When Koon had chopped these into the fish for several minutes she added a handful of parched, finely ground rice. His hand was getting tired.

    "That's good", she said. "Now you start to turn it over with the knife, like this, every few chops." She took the knife from Koon, slid the flat blade under the mixture, and deftly flipped it over. Chop-chop-flip...chop-chop-flip... Koon took the knife back and did the same, concentrating on doing it just right.

    "Aren't we going to put any lime juice in, like when you make catfish laarb?"
    "We don't have any limes and your father doesn't like lime juice in it anyway. You know what he likes with laarb made from pla raa!"
    Koon laughed. "I know, red ants!" It was true.

    He chopped and flipped, chopped and flipped, and at last his mother took the knife from him. Sliding it under the top she laid one half of the fragrant mound on a piece of fresh banana leaf, heated it over the fire, and expertly folded the leaf into a sturdy square packet which she tied into a scrap of cloth. The rest of the laarb she put into a small square pot.
    "This is for you me, and Yee-Soon and Boonlai, to eat with todays breakfast rice.

    "Mama, how do you make jaew bong?", he asked, thinking of the fish mixture she sometimes packed into bamboo tubes.
    "Almost the same as we just did" she said,. "Only I add dried roasted peppers, not fresh ones, and roasted onions too."
    "Why do people call it jaew bong?"
    "Because they pack it into a bong, a bamboo tube, for going on a long trip. Jaew packed into a bong will last for months, even a year. But I always heat it again, just to make sure."
    "Someday I'm going to make jaew bong."
    "Of course you will, every human being should know how to make laarb pla ra and jaew bong."

    She leaned out of the window with the chopping board and poured water over it, brought it back inside, scrubbed it, held it outside the window again and rinsed it. The water splashed sharply onto the packed, dry earth.

    Koon's father came into the kitchen, fastened the cloth that held his food around his waist, took his machete down from the wall, and went off.

    Koon's mother called the two little girls, who left their play below and scampered into the house. The mother and children sat in a circle on the floor; in the center of their circle was a round, woven, bamboo box of rice, the little pot of laarb that Koon had helped to make, and two hard-boiled eggs cut in halves. Their mother gave one half to each child and put the extra half onto a shelf.

    "Who gets that one, mama?" Yee-soon asked.
    "Whoever feels hungry later."

    Koon pulled a chunk of rice out of the woven bamboo box, quickly rolled it into a ball with his fingers, and dunked it into the laarb. It was delicious with the pungent, fresh aroma and taste of lemon grass and galangal. When his lips burned from the fresh, hot chillis he had chopped into the laarb he pursed his lips and drew in his breath to cool them.

    "It's not that spicy" his mother said, "I only put in four or five chillis. Anyway, a young boy should be able to eat five-chilli laarb! Look, Yee-Soon can eat it."

    Boonlai had her own laarb, a spoonful mother had taken out before adding chillis.
    "Yee-Soon can eat anything," Koon said.
    Yee-Soon looked at him with narrowed eyes. ""Papa told me that we'll be smart when we grow up if we eat lots of chillis," she said. "Is that true, mama?"
    "It's true."

    Yee-soon stuffed her whole piece of egg into her mouth. "Mama said you shouldn't do that." Koon said. "Mama says you're supposed to eat lots of rice and only little pieces of the other food. Not stuff all your food into your mouth. Right, mama?"
    "That's right. If you eat a lot of sticky rice, Yee-Soon, and not so much of the other things, you'll grow up to be a pretty girl, and a good girl, too. Yee-Soon narrowed her eyes at Koon again. He didn't care.

    He though about his dogs, mawm and daeng, who had gone with Papa. Oh, if only he could have gone too! He absently pinched off little bits of stick rice and fed them to a small spotted cat that brushed against his arm. Yee-Soon grabbed the cat roughly and pulled it onto her lap. "Nobody can feed this cat excpet me," she said, "It's mine."

    Koon thought of Mawm and Daeng racing through the hills and wondered why anybody would ever want a dumb cat anyway.
    don't you know there ain't no devil, there's just god when he's drunk

  2. #2
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    Great stuff mate.

    Will have to write this down next time I'm off to the bookshops.
    "A child of the Northeast (ลูกอีสาน)" by Kampoon Boontawee.

  3. #3
    MrG
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    There's a listing for it on Amazon.com for $103.47. I'd love to read it too, but....

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    How about this? only $12.95

    A Child of the Northeast by Kampoon Boontawee

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    Quote Originally Posted by beazalbob69 View Post
    That's the English language version I've got, the one I quoted from in the OP, it's full of misspellings and errors in the English and looks like it was made from photocopies but it's still very readable. 390 Baht if you order from within Thailand. A bargain.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrB0b
    I've already posted this in the Kitchen section. I'm not really sure what's the best forum for this.
    If you'd like this thread to be a general thread about Thai literature, then I can move it to the Multimedia forum if you want?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DrB0b
    I've already posted this in the Kitchen section. I'm not really sure what's the best forum for this.
    If you'd like this thread to be a general thread about Thai literature, then I can move it to the Multimedia forum if you want?
    Thanks, I've thought about doing a thread like that for a while. This is testing the waters. A kind of reading club theme, go through the top 20 modern Thai novels. It'll probably be slow going but I've got quite a few posts in mind for a thread like that.

    Do we have a dedicated Thai Arts and Culture forum anywhere? I know we've got a general Arts and Entertainment one but I think a dedicated Thai one would be a good addition to Teakdoor, somewhere to discuss Thai art, literature. music, movies, and anything else that falls under arts and culture. A place for something more than temple festivals and paintings of the Buddha.
    Last edited by DrB0b; 28-01-2010 at 12:21 PM.

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    The Judgment by Chart Korbjitti

    This is only one of two books I have read written by a Thai author, but it was excellent. I'll nick the blurb from DCO Thai...

    The Judgment by Chart Korbjitti
    Winner of the SEA Write Award 1982



    Fak thought that, as he had lost everything, there was nothing more he could lose. Over all the time that had gone by, he had only known losses. Whatever he decided to do, and whatever came out of what he did, he couldn't fall any lower than he already had. He had sunk as low as he could go. He was already at the end of the line, and even if he suffered from the consequences of his decision this time, he would still be standing at the end of the line, but if he was able to ...

    About the Author



    Chart Korbjitti, born into a merchant family south of Bangkok in 1954, has been a successful full-time writer ever since he published his first short story in 1979. Twice the winner of the prestigious SEA Write Award (in 1982 for The Judgment, in 1994 for Time), he is also the author of several collections of short stories, movie scripts, novellas and novels, including Mad Dogs & Co, a picaresque saga of Thai hippies. His works have been translated in half a dozen languages. He lives upcountry with his wife, three dogs and a number of geckos.

    Paperback
    Pak Chong 2001
    2nd. Printing 2003
    Howling Books
    318 pages
    ISBN 9749149157

    The Judgment by Chart Korbjitti
    It was also made into a movie and can be downloaded from avistaz.com if you can't find it in the shops.


  9. #9
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    Thanks Dr. B.

    I picked up "A Child of the Northeast" on your recommendation and really enjoyed it. Got it at a second hand bookstore in Chiang Mai for 150 THB.

    Are there any other books translated from the same genre? I enjoy reading the books written of the past in Thailand that are based on actual times or events, fictional or not.

  10. #10
    Nostradamus
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    Monsoon Country by Pira Sudham
    The novel that caused Pira Sudham to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Much like Pira's own life it follows a poor farmer's son from the North-East to Bangkok and as an overseas student in England. In this novel you will get an insider's view of poverty and corruption in Thailand's poorest area, the Esarn. Starting in 1954 and ending in 1980 it covers a period of of immense change in Thailand, the clash of Western and Thai values, the student movement and the military repression of the 1970's.
    From Monsoon Country - Liberty is a foreign word, found on a coin a foreigner dropped in the palm of my hand, but it has taken me years to fully understand its meaning; it has taken the death of Rit, a fair boy from the North; it has taken the disappearance of Kumjai. Liberty! When I go to England there will surely be more words to understand and remember. It seems that each new word takes me farther afield, always away from Napo.

    The sequel, The Force Of Karma is also good.

    Monsoon Country by Pira Sudham - The Voice of the Esarn

  11. #11
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    ^^ Khun Sudham has a website which might be of interest. Pirasudham Poker Room

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