THAILAND: Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

I have a soft spot for those big books that follow a person’s whole life (Pachinko or The Toss of a Lemon are some of my favourites) and Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj is another great one of this genre.

Four Reigns follows the life of Phloi, a woman from a minor noble family, as she enters the court of King Rama V as a young girl in the 1890s, through her marriage and children, Thailand’s modernization in the early 20th century, the first Thai coup of 1932, which brought a constitutional monarchy, and WWII. All through this, the reigns of the four Thai kings interweave in the background, running parallel to Phloi and her family’s lives.

What struck me most was the realism – many of these books heap suffering on their heroines but this one is paced so much more like real life. The bad is mixed in with the good, some things do not end with poetic justness, family disputes are often as just serious as larger historical events. It’s an immense book, over 650 pages, but it flows beautifully, with Phloi as both a woman of her era and a deeply complex realistic person.

Four Reigns was published in 1953, and is taught in Thai schools today. Kukrit Pramoj had an impressive life of his own, with a large bibliography of fiction, non-fiction, and academic works on traditional Thai culture. He also briefly served as Prime Minister of Thailand (as did his brother), and his love of the Thai monarchy in Four Reigns is not surprising, as he also had royal blood – he was the great-grandson of King Rama II.

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