Many Lives

Many Lives

The late M.R Kukrit Pramoj was a celebrated statesman, journalist, classical dancer, writer and “one of the most imposing and impressive personalities of modern Thai history”, according to scholar and translator, Meredith Borthwick.

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One of his most captivating literary works is Lai Chiwit, published in 1954 and later translated by Borthwick under the English title, Many Lives.

The inspiration came dramatically. After Pramoj witnessed a bus accident that killed most of the passengers, he contemplated how the lives of a seemingly random group of strangers were snuffed out at the same moment. These bodies scattered around a ravine: who had they been in life? What unseen forces might have guided them to their sudden deaths?

In Many Lives, Pramoj begins with a ferry accident (rather than bus) involving a group of strangers who perish together in an instant, with each of 11 chapters functioning as a life story focusing on one passenger. Every chapter kept us on the edge of our seat. The character development is remarkable: just 20 to 30 pages left us with strong emotional connections to characters such as Sem the monk, Lamom the daughter, and Lek the prince.

The stories unravel a complex web of unwritten laws that still keep Thai society tangled together, for better or worse. Themes include devotion to parents even to the point of self-destruction, the accumulation of positive merit leading to fortunate circumstances, and the vastly different ways in which Thai people are treated depending on social status.

Along with the ever-present force of karma, these and other themes define the lives, and deaths, of 11 people set in early 20th-century Thailand. They are themes that are often missed or misunderstood even by foreigners who have spent many years in Thailand, making Many Lives an enlightening read as well as a gripping set of stories.

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108 results found

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