Twenty Great Books set in APARTMENT BLOCKS
A novel of Bangkok across the centuries
20th February 2019
Bangkok Wakes To Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad – a novel of Bangkok across the centuries.
Bangkok Wakes To Rain is an extraordinary debut novel – ambitious and wide ranging in both its content and its style.
People and families are interwoven across centuries – from the end of the 19th to an imagined future a few decades hence. The book ranges from an historical novel through to more of a Sci-Fi fantasy. Many stories exist and overlap, but there are two constants. The first is an ever evolving building. Built in colonial times, it is inhabited at the end of the 19th century by a US missionary outpost. Cholera is rife, and many thousands in the city perish. Move on some decades and a divorced wife of a diplomat now living in London occupies the property. She summons a jazz musician to play to ghosts. Then the property is sold and converted into a 27 storey condominium block (and a young worker dies in its construction). But the original features of the colonial house are maintained. Over the years the block falls into neglect and decay. Then, finally, it is covered by water as Bangkok floods – the floods do not clear and downtown Bangkok becomes entirely submerged.
The second constant is the family of two sisters – Nee and Mai. We first meet Nee as a student living with her mother. She and her boyfriend are involved in the student riots of the ’70s, and her boyfriend is killed when the military open fire. Mai has moved to Japan and opened a restaurant. We follow them through their lives… Nee, for a while, works in the condo building and gives swimming lessons in the building’s pool. Mai returns to Thailand. We see them in middle and old age as their children grow up in the futuristic city that is now Bangkok. No need for anyone to die – the brain can be plugged in and can communicate with those living life as we would understand it.
A really hard book to classify and compartmentalise. It is beautifully written and far reaching. I thought the ‘Sci-Fi’ part might jar – but it did not. It flowed on effortlessly.
Tony for the TripFiction team
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