Letters from Thailand (Thailand)
Letters from Thailand by Botan, translated by Susan F. Kepner
My first Google search to find books written by female authors in Thailand was depressing. The majority of search results led to books written by men about how to find a Thai woman. Having traveled in Southeast Asia, I’m not immune to the fact that men go there to meet women, but I was shocked to see books written about it. Those were definitely not what I was looking for.
After a relatively exhaustive search, the only author I found was Duanwad Pimwana who had a few books being released in English in April 2019.
A Thailand travel guide, however, led me to the translations by Susan Kepner, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Kepner has translated a number of Thai books and through her work I discovered Letters from Thailand.
Written by Botan (pseud. Supa Sirsing), the book is a series of letters written by a Chinese immigrant living in Bangkok to the mother he left behind in China. We listen to Tan Suang U tell his mother his successes, trials, and failures over a 20-year period. In that time frame, he is “adopted” by Chinese elder, gets married, has four children, and becomes a successful business man.
While focused on Tan Suang U and his family, the book also provides a glimpse into life in Thailand in the mid-1900s and the mindset and feelings of immigrants who are trying to retain their culture amongst the pressures of living in a new country.
Botan wrote this book in 1969 and I was really surprised at the insight and emotions she expressed that are still so relevant today. Ideas of love, shame, belief, anger, and acceptance - all things that exist in almost all of our lives on a regular basis.
It took me a while to embrace this book, but when I got to the end I was incredibly sad it was over. I’m so glad I found Letters from Thailand and can see coming back to it over the years to find solace and comfort in the fact that all of us just need someone to hear us.