During my 4 week visit to Thailand I had to urgently return to Taiwan for some administrative work regarding my work permit for 2019. I headed into the first travel agent I saw and there, on the wall behind the travel agent’s desk, were these two photos. They represent two of the four reigns in the book. The one on the left is where the book starts and the one on the right where it ends.
I started 2019 in Thailand and also started reading Four Reigns.
If you want to read this just on one level it is a good read, beautifully written with lots of detail about life at the royal court. It tells the life story of a fictional character named Phloi from her childhood to an old woman, and how life in Thailand / Bangkok changed through the reigns of four kings. I thought Phloi is a very likeable character and the story moves along fast enough so that I did not get bored. There were times when I was wondering about some incidents and the time-line (like when Phloi’s children are sent away to boarding school in Europe but I’m feeling Phloi is still in her early 20’s) but it did not bother me enough to retrace it. I just wondered and moved on. Overall an enjoyable book.
It is when you take a deeper look that this becomes a very interesting book and you start asking many questions. The author was of royal decent and served as prime-minister, like his one brother, in the 1970’s. His writing career started with his reaction to the portrayal of the Thai king Mongkut in the film Anna and the King of Siam. He and his brother did not like it and in 1948 wrote a manuscript called The King of Siam Speaks which is now in The Library of Congress.
While reading I wondered if the author is a royalist and conservatist (he was a great-grandchild of King Rama II) or is he more of a democrat seeing he became a politician and served in major roles as such. Is he trying to explain the Thai way of thinking to foreigners or is it propaganda? These are just some thoughts to keep in the back of the mind while you read this book.
Reading another reader’s review I found this remark very usefulI. I quote from a reader on Goodreads calling him / herself Subvert: “Phloi has four children in the book, all of them caricatures to explain the changes in Thai history in that time. One is the royalist soldier, banished to prison for a decade after participating in the Borawat rebellion. Praphai is the beautiful daughter who exemplifies the changes for women in the modernising Thailand with her taste for modern fashion and hi-so parties. An and Ot are however among the first upper-class Thais to go abroad for an overseas education. An is the overly ambitious son, is a participant in the 1932 coup and becomes a powerful bureaucrat, who then slowly becomes disillusioned by the new government and regrets his past actions. Ot is the easy-going and most sympathetic son, who is less ambitious than An, but much wiser and constantly in support of the royalty. It’s worth pointing out that An went to study in France like most of the coup plotters including Pridi, while Ot went to study in England like the Pramoj brothers did. I doubt that this is purely coincidental.”
A great read and I recommend it if you want to see a Thailand that is more than just shopping in Bangkok and lazying on the beaches in the south.
A quote from the book: Ot is writing to his mother from England where he is a student. “Let us suppose a maem * falls in love with me. Ah, but is it ‘me’ we are talking about? No, it is this fascinating stranger hailing from the exotic East she has read and heard so much about…”.
My review or rather rave about
Diving Deep, Going Far by Menno de Block.
Wow wow wow!!! What an inspirational book. The Khmer have a saying that women can’t dive deep or go far and the title of this book says that the women of Cambodia are diving deep and are going far. The book is fictional but based on the real life experiences of several Cambodian women. I think women from a developing country will tell you these stories feel so real, they have been lived by many women all over the world. These stories are of courage, determination, of fearing something but doing it anyway, they are also of hope.
I read this book in one sitting…. all of it, right to the acknowledgement page (which I usually skip).
My only problem is why was this book written by a Dutch guy? He did a very very good job – make no mistake, but I was a bit disappointed when I discovered, in the acknowledgements, that it was written by a man. The author, Menno de Block, is a young man from the Netherlands working with NGO’s in Cambodia. In his dealing with various groups he became spellbound by the dedication and commitment he saw in the young women of Cambodia.
I’m so inspired by this book I want to pack my bags and return to Cambodia to cheer on the women that are changing their own culture and country.
This book is not just about and for Cambodian women. This book will inspire any women who feels stuck in a rut; or who wonders should I / could I take this risk; what will the people say if I do ….
Girls, go read this book, let it inspire you to just do it.
#Diving Deep, Going Far
#Menno de Block