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Anna Leonowens, a proper Englishwoman, was an unlikley candidate to change the course of Siamese (Thai) history. A young widow and mother, her services were engaged in the 1860's by King Mongkut of Siam to help him communicate with foreign governments and be the tutor to his children and favored concubines. Stepping off the steamer from London, Anna found herself in an exotic land she could have only dreamed of lush landscape of mystic faiths and curious people, and king's palace bustling with royal pageantry, ...
Anna Leonowens, a proper Englishwoman, was an unlikley candidate to change the course of Siamese (Thai) history. A young widow and mother, her services were engaged in the 1860's by King Mongkut of Siam to help him communicate with foreign governments and be the tutor to his children and favored concubines. Stepping off the steamer from London, Anna found herself in an exotic land she could have only dreamed of lush landscape of mystic faiths and curious people, and king's palace bustling with royal pageantry, ancient custom, and harems. One of her pupils, the young prince Chulalongkorn, was particularly influenced by Leonowens and her Western ideals. He learned about Abraham Lincoln and the tenets of democracy from her, and years later he would become Siam's most progressive king. He guided the country's transformation from a feudal state to a modern society, abolshing slavery and making many other radical reforms.
Weaving meticulously researched facts with beautifully imagined scenes, Margret Landon recreates an unforgettable portrait of life in a forgotten extotic land. Written more than fifty years ago, and translated into dozens of languages, Anna and the King of Siam (the inspiration for the magical play and film The King and I)continues to delight and enchant readers around the world.
The Siamese steamer Chow Phya, most modern of the ships plying between Singapore and Bangkok, came to anchor outside the bar at the mouth of the River Chow Phya. A troupe of circus performers were hanging over the rails trying to catch the first glimpse of the country whose king had invited them to entertain his extensive family. Their trained dogs were barking and snarling at the two dogs belonging to the captain of the ship, George Orton, but Jip and Trumpet were disdainful and superior.
Somewhat apart from the rough and laughing group an Englishwoman was leaning against the rail. Her dress of lavender mull had a neat high collar and modest wrist-length sleeves. She was slender and graceful as she stood there with a light breeze ruffling her full skirts. Chestnut curls framed a face that was pretty except for the rather prominent nose. Her dark eyes were turned toward the line on the horizon that was land. She stood almost motionless, fingering a curious brooch on her breast, a gold brooch into which were set two tiger claws. Beside her a Newfoundland dog stood as quiet as she.
The circus dogs came close, sniffed and barked, but the Newfoundland did not return their greeting. She was aloof, reposeful, dignified, not to be cajoled into confidences with strange dogs. She kept her eyes fixed on her mistress' face as it looked across the water to the distant shore.
The sun rose higher. Golden rays danced and sparkled on the slow blue swells of the gulf. The laughter and shouting on deck continued. The dogs raced about. But the woman was as remote from the confusion as if she were separated from it by an invisible wall.
A carefully dressed boy of about six came up from below deck, followed by a Hindustani nurse in a richly patterned sari. He had the same look of good bones, the same delicate air of breeding that distinguished the woman at the rail. His brown hair was curly and his brown eyes danced.
"Mama, Mama," he cried, dashing up to the still figure. "Are we there? Are we there?"
She turned to him with a smile. "Yes, Louis. We are there. In a little while we'll be in Bangkok. Shall we not, Captain Orton?" she inquired of the bronzed young man in an immaculate uniform who had stepped up behind her son.
"We'll go over the bar with the tide," the officer answered, "and you'll sleep on shore tonight."
Louis ran shouting with the news to the circus performers, and the Newfoundland gravely padded after him. "Stay with him, Beebe," the woman directed in Malay.
"Beebe and Bessy take good care of you and Louis, don't they?" asked the captain.
"Yes, they're very faithful." She smiled faintly, her eyes on the hurrying back of the ayah. "Beebe and Moonshee have been with me since before I was married, you know. And good old Bessy is a member of the family, too. She'd guard us with her life."
Captain Orton stood silent a moment. A puff of fresh wind blew the woman's curls back. "Mrs. Leonowens, that ought to be a man's job," he said in a low voice to the pink ear that hardly reached his shoulder. "A maid, a dog, and an old Persian professor aren't enough. I don't like your going in there. For some women, yes. For you, no. People go in there and never come out again." Dark color moved under the clear tan. "Forgive me for saying so much, but you can't even imagine what it will be like."
"You forget that I've lived in the Orient ever since I was fifteen."
"Yes, in British colonies with British soldiers to protect you. This is Siam!"
The woman bit her lip, but did not turn her eyes toward him. "I can't go back now. I've given my word."
"You will not go back now?"
He paused, hesitating, then forged ahead. "There's always Mr. Cobb. He's a gentleman and rich!"
She flushed deeply. When she did not speak, he went on in a savage voice, but low. "There is also myself, as you know. Perhaps not a gentleman, and certainly not rich!"
She turned to him then, the deep brown eyes full of tears. "Dear Captain Orton, don't belabor yourself so! To me you are a gentleman, a kind gentleman who has made this difficult trip endurable. But--please try to understand, that for me there has only ever been one man--Leon--and now that he's--gone--there will never be anyone else." She looked out across the water, but her eyes were unseeing. A tear ran down her cheek and she dried it hurriedly with a handkerchief. The man leaned on the rail beside her.
"Mrs. Leonowens, you're too young to bury your heart in a grave." There was a note of pleading in his voice. "Believe me, I would not ask much. Just to take care of you, and Avis, and Louis."
She answered slowly, "But I can't give even that little. I don't know why, but I haven't it left to give." She lifted her face toward his and for a long moment he looked deeply into her eyes, then turned away scowling. Halfway down the deck he wheeled and came back. "I'll be in port every month. If ever you need me, the Chow Phya and I are at your service." And he was gone without waiting for a reply.
The sun was hot now. Sighing, but a little reassured, the slight, graceful woman went below.
Posted March 31, 2010
Before reading this book, we had read Anna Leonowens's own account of her time in Siam, from 1862 to 1867, entitled The English Governess and the Siamese Court, published in 1870. It was fascinating reading and I gave it a good rating. Many years later Margaret Landon discovered Mrs. Leonowens's writings, researched Anna's life, and wrote a somewhat fictionalized account, which became a best seller and was used as the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I.
Landon rounded off some of the rough edges in Mrs. Leonowen's original, and the musical rounds off the edges even further. According to the books, King Mongkhut was much more capricious, haughty, and stubborn than Yul Brynner ever portrayed him. This would be a good book to include in a study about southeast Asian history, especially because it shows the influence that this English teacher had on the young prince Chulalongkorn who became king of Siam (Thailand) after his father's death and put into practice many of the enlightened principles that he learned from His governess.
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Posted June 25, 2008
Some reviewers are mistaken to take this famous bestseller as fact....it is historical fiction, based on Anna's life and own writings, but inventing many episodes. It is often forgotten that the musical THE KING AND I originated here in Mrs Landon's exciting account.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2003
The book is non-sense. It is untrue that the King of Siam follows what she says. He does not even know her in the Thai chronicle, she is more like a servant for him to take care of his children. A very badly written book!
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Posted July 25, 2000
If you are interested in adventure and Asian culture of the past, this is an awesome book to read. I didn't know much about Thailand until I read this book and it definitely made me want to travel to Bangkok and visit the royal palaces. It gave me a very sympathetic feeling towards the 'imprisoned' women of the Siamese royal household. There were only a few instances in Anna and the King of Siam which were somewhat uncaptivating, but otherwise it was fascinating to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.