Sudbanthad’s meditative debut drifts back and forth through time, evoking Bangkok past, present, and future. Loosely woven narratives follow Nee, a girl whose lover is killed during anti-government protests in 1973, as she navigates life in a melancholy city bleeding out its ancient culture. In one story, Nee is estranged from her sister Nok after she discovers Nok’s restaurant in Japan buys its Thai ingredients from a corrupt ex-colonel. In another, Nee goes to work managing a high-rise condo, the lobby of which is a colonial-style Thai house—the heart of this novel—once owned by one of the building’s wealthy elderly residents. When the old woman’s son comes home from abroad, he and Nee begin a disastrous affair. Interspersed among Nee’s stories (which are not presented chronologically) are beautifully wrought tales of a doctor-missionary in old Siam, whose Western faith morphs into enlightenment with the help of witch doctors, cholera, and despair. Occasionally birds will narrate a story—or an aging American jazz musician, another foreigner seduced by Krungthep, the name the Thai people use to describe their city. Though this novel’s ambitious architecture—disparate stories in shifting eras—can sometimes work against its considerable strengths, all of Sudbanthad’s characters live and breathe with authenticity, and his prose is deeply moving, making for an evocative debut. (Feb.)
Named a best book of 2019 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Paste, and Kirkus.
“[An examination of] hidden, overlooked spaces, where ghosts and spirits and discarded dreams orbit, even as people try to outpace the past...[stories] intersect and build on one another, like banana leaves woven to make a floating offering for the water spirits . . . Bangkok is changing too fast, shedding layers of its history like the skins of a snake. Yet the city retains its allure, and the quest to return is like some animal.” —New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)
“Fluid in its structure and aqueous in its themes, the novel vividly evokes the teeming, sweltering city.” —The New Yorker
“Captures the nation’s lush history in all its turbulence and resilience … flowing gracefully from historical fiction to contemporary realism to science fiction … Entrancing. … Sudbanthad’s narrative is not just a tribute to his home, it’s an act of resistance against the city’s mildew and amnesia. … a way of preserving what is otherwise inscribed only on the liquid surface of memory.” —Washington Post
“Elegant and restrained … A series of glancing vignettes that proceed in roughly linear fashion from the 19th century to the near future … bear witness to the city’s changing landscape. … Sudbanthad’s serene, almost otherworldy omniscience makes his fictional biography of the city an original and quietly memorable reading experience.” —Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable...Ambitious and sweeping, yet at once intimately crafted and shot through with fine detail, Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a sumptuous accomplishment.” —Esquire
“Expertly evokes a sense of place — [Sudbanthad's] descriptions of Thailand are gorgeous; the reader feels transported there. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is well worth reading. It's a strong debut from an intelligent, self-assured author.” —NPR
“A sweeping epic with the amphibious city of the title at its scintillating center…by turns realistic and mystical, historical and speculative, the book is beautifully diffuse…. Sudbanthad's elaborate, time-hopping saga explores class stratifications, intercultural connections and disconnections, and finely textured layers of history, all the while raising fascinating questions about the future.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Sudbanthad spans an entire century in his vast, illuminating portrait of Bangkok, bringing together a cast of characters as they experience love, revolution, and sorrow.” —Entertainment Weekly
“This prismatic debut peels back the layers of a Thai manse, whose past residents—among them a disillusioned American missionary and a world-weary jazz musician—still haunt its hallways metaphorically and literally.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
“[Sudbanthad’s] glittering tales of the title city accumulate into a mosaic of jagged puzzle pieces whose chronological leaps make the whole thing come together only more powerfully by the end.” —Vulture
“Bangkok Wakes to Rain is itself a sort of house of ghosts and those haunted by them, in a cycle of vivid life and aching loss... The technology Sudbanthad imagines is a marvel, but it’s one that might be modeled on what this novel does so beautifully: bringing a place and its people alive through story.” —Tampa Bay Times
“[W]ith its wide cast and still wider timeframes, Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut rewards close attention….Bangkok unifies his characters’ lives and, in a climate of concern for the city’s future, amid rising sea levels, so does water, with its fearsome power to transform, disrupt, slaughter and redeem….Sudbanthad’s blend of travelogue with social and political history is compelling in his treatment of expatriation….the ambitious structure pays off.” —Financial Times
“Gorgeously polyphonic and saturated in the senses, this novel brims with a wistful and gripping energy as it carries us through time and space. Sudbanthad brilliantly sounds the resonant pulse of the city in a wise and far-reaching meditation on home.” —Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn
“[A] stunning novel, crafted with an entirely unique narrative structure… Sudbanthad is a remarkable talent, and I’m excited for readers to dive into a novel as rich, complex, and accomplished as Bangkok Wakes to Rain.” —Apogee
“[A] writer born in Thailand and now living in New York creates a portrait of Bangkok that sweeps across a century and a teeming cast of characters yet shines with exquisite detail. …This breathtakingly lovely novel is an accomplished debut, beautifully crafted and rich with history rendered in the most human terms.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“[I]n this assured debut, Sudbanthad provides a broad overview of Bangkok’s history while diving deep into individual stories of romance, revolution, and suffering…vivid stories that combine to create a resonant whole.” –Booklist
"A bold and tender novel with a simple, ingenious conceit the stories a house can contain, from a city's colonial past to its antediluvian future. Sudbanthad arrives to us already a masterful innovator of the form—a startlingly original debut."
–Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night
“Beautifully textured and rich with a sense of place, this is a big, ambitious book. Sudbanthad compellingly captures not only the long arcs of these lives but also the smallest moments, and how those moments linger in memory, how they haunt.”
–Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles and The Dreamers
"Beautifully written." –Southern Living, Best New Winter Books
“[M]editative…beautifully wrought…all of Sudbanthad’s characters live and breathe with authenticity, and his prose is deeply moving, making for an evocative debut.” –Publisher's Weekly
A homesick 19th-century missionary, an officious 1930s society woman, a brooding 1950s jazz pianist, a contemporary young woman, and futuristic teens guiding tourists and former residents through a flooded city—these stories collide David Mitchell-like in Sudbanthad's debut to produce a kaleidoscopic view of Bangkok over two centuries. Big in-house buzz.
In his debut novel, a writer born in Thailand and now living in New York creates a portrait of Bangkok that sweeps across a century and a teeming cast of characters yet shines with exquisite detail.
In its early chapters, the book reads like a collection of short stories linked only by their relationship to Bangkok: A nameless woman walks through its bustling streets in the present; an American doctor more than 100 years ago struggles to decipher its overwhelmingly foreign culture; a Thai photographer living in Los Angeles in the 1970s visits his ailing father in London; a woman running a Thai restaurant in Japan finds herself threatened by Thailand's politics. But as those seemingly unconnected stories accumulate, so do the threads that join them. Many are stories of loss and of survival. In one, a young Thai man named Siripohng, who has come to the city to attend university, meets a woman named Nee during the massive student demonstrations in 1973. Sudbanthad draws a subtle but achingly lovely account of their courtship, born of the hopeful spirit of the protests—then pivots to a shocking conclusion. In another, an American jazz musician called Crazy Legs Clyde is summoned to a woman's estate to play piano because a medium, she tells him, "counts twenty or so spirits in the pillar. They visit me in my dreams, and I'm tired of it. A woman my age needs her sound sleep." But the assignment to exorcise them raises a ghost from Clyde's past that won't be stilled. Ghosts haunt this novel, even the ghosts of buildings, like the ancient tile-roofed house preserved within the lobby of a gleaming new skyscraper where some of the book's characters will live (and at least one will die). As one character muses near the end of the novel, "The forgotten return again and again, as new names and faces, and again this city makes new ghosts." Yet in Sudbanthad's skillful hands and lyrical prose, every one of them seems vividly alive.
This breathtakingly lovely novel is an accomplished debut, beautifully crafted and rich with history rendered in the most human terms.