Post by Bora Pleasance
Through following the threads of different lives, Pitchaya Sudbanthad creates a tapestry of Bangkok — past, current, and potential future.
Although there is a narrative, it is secondary — an undulating foundation for the emotional and sensory story Sudbanthad was weaving of a city on which you can feel his complex yet complete love. The characters are a sample of diversity, both human and animal. Their only commonality is the city — whether they inhabit it, mourn it, choose it, or choose to keep it at a distance. Through them, you get to feel its pulse. You see its borders shift, its mentality divide. You see its history embed itself into reluctant inhabitants, you see it slip slowly into its next chapter. You feel the pain of loss, not of a person but of a place, because we all have a Bangkok somewhere.
The novel feels like looking at someone else’s photo album. You see snapshots of people you don’t know, of places you have never been, yet somehow it is familiar. This loose form allows Sudbandthad to cover a breadth of topics not normally found in one novel. It’s hard to put it into a genre. Science fiction, socio-political commentary, family drama, romance, poetry? It’s a bit of everything. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t read like a series of short stories. Whether it’s his consistent writing style or the varying connections between the characters or the constant theme of Bangkok, the audiobook feels very much like one (albeit incomplete) story.
One of the central pillars of the audiobook is a building — one that connects many of the characters and gives a visual metaphor for Bangkok that is easier to conceptualize than a sprawling metropolis. However, in order to fully appreciate the novel, you have to be willing to let go of the concrete and take the leaps Sudbandthad puts in your way. The further you get, the more you feel the historical energy of Bangkok itself, one of spirits and fevers and emotion over logic. Facts are exchanged for hints, answers for questions, and dangling threads are left as rags. There is no satisfying ending because cities rarely have endings. Instead, they are reinvented again and again by its inhabitants and its ghosts.
Euan Morton brings the flavor of Thai to his narration, seamlessly putting on an accent where needed without distracting the listener. His tone and depth capture the shifting moods and show respect for the characters and culture to which he is giving a voice. In Bangkok Wakes to Rain, we walk through this city, meeting people for brief moments and never seeing them again, we watch them impact each other in ways we will never know, we wonder about ghosts that might not exist. If that makes you uncomfortable, so will this audiobook. But if that makes you want to dive in and explore, you will have plenty to discover.
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.
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