Botan is the pseudonym of Supa Sirisingh, a Thai author and daughter of a father who immigrated to Thailand from China and a mother, born in Thailand to Chinese parents. Sirisingh’s father was a conservative Chinese and did not believe in education for woman, but this determined girl made it happen for herself. She won her first scholarship at age nine and eventually earned Masters degrees in Thai and English.
Letters from Thailand was published when Sirisingh was 21 years old and was awarded the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation) Literary Award the same year. It has been translated into 10 languages and into English by Susan Fulop Kepner. Later it became required reading for schools in Thailand. When it was first published it was a controversial book as the author portrayed the Thai and Chinese cultures in Thailand in an honest way and it offended many people in both cultures.
Letters from Thailand is completely different from Four Reigns which I read just before this one. This book starts where Four Reigns end and shows that life in Bangkok goes on. This story is told, through poignant and honest letters to his mother in China, by a Chinese man who moved to Bangkok. It follows his life from a young man through to being a grandfather, in a time who the social history in Thailand is changing. By showing the reader vividly everyday life we see this man’s battle as he can’t accept the Thai culture. We see that changes are unavoidable, for expats as well as natives who have to live in a community with the expats, and that makes this book so relatable.
The different perspectives are very 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 try to blend in. Where is the line that says you have gone too far or you have not tried hard enough? The different characters in this book experience it differently.
If you belong to a reading group or bookclub that is made up of expats (in any country) this will be a book that will lead to heated debates as there is just so much to discuss. It’s a delightful book that I enjoyed very much.