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The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen [Hardcover]

Pasuk Phongpaichit , Muangsing Panchai , Chris Baker

Price: 39.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

25 Mar 2011
Siam's folk epic of love, war, and tragedy. Khun Chang Khun Phaen is one of the most famous works of old Thai literature. The plot is a love story, set against a background of war, and ending in high tragedy. This folk epic was first developed in oral form for popular performance with lashings of romance, adventure, violence, farce and magic. It was later adopted by the Siamese court and written down, with two kings contributing. This first-ever translation is based on Prince Damrong's standard edition of 1917-18, with over a hundred passages recovered from earlier versions. This English translation is written in lively prose, completely annotated with over four hundred original line drawings and an afterword explaining the work's historical background, social context, and poetic style. The main volume presents the entire poem in translation. The companion volume contains alternative chapters and extensions, Prince Damrong's prefaces, and reference lists of Thai terms. The volumes are available separately or as a slipcased set. According to the leading Thai linguist William Gedney, "If all other information on traditional Thai culture were to be lost, the whole complex could be reconstructed from this marvelous text." Chris Baker formerly taught Asian history at Cambridge University and has lived in Thailand for over thirty years. Pasuk Phongpaichit is Professor of Economics at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Together they have written several books including Thailand: Economy and Politics, A History of Thailand, and Thaksin. The illustrator, Muangsing Janchai, is trained in Thai painting and has executed mural paintings in several temples. He is a native of Suphanburi, Thailand.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Silkworm Books; annotated edition edition (25 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9749511956
  • ISBN-13: 978-9749511954
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 5.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,582,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Thailand's only wholly homegrown literary classic is, in Western terms, a dozen Shakespeare plays rolled into one, with a rich vein of Arthurian romance to boot. Khun Chang Khun Phaen entails comedy, tragedy, love, sex, war, magic, honour, infamy, gallantry, and treachery. And that, as untold millions of Thais have seen in the course of nearly four centuries, is entertainment." The Nation "Baker and Pasuk have combed through every possible existing version of the classic tale in Thai and provided an impressive array of alternative versions to the standard text edited by Prince Damrong in 1917-18. Their afterword offers a critical comprehensive look at the unique history of KCKP, how it evolved from the oral tradition circulated among commoners to become one of the greatest works espoused by the Siamese court, and also at the context of Thai literature and the social and geopolitical landscapes key to understanding the saga." Bangkok Post --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and Readable for All 15 Aug 2013
By Anthony E. Waters - Published on Amazon.com
Khun Chang, Khun Phaen has all the suspense, action, and page-turning excitement of a historical novel. This would of course be normal if this were a modern novel--but it is not. Khun Chang, Khun Phaen is a classical epic, and the product of first Siamese troubadours of the 16th to 19th centuries, and secondly scribes in the royal palaces of nineteenth and early twentieth century Siam. Such mixed authorship usually means that there is a disjointedness to the story. This is not the case with this translation. The setting for this epic is roughly in the period 17th and 18th centuries when the Ayudhya Kingdom dominated central Thailand, and was warring with princes in Chiangmai, Vientiane, and Burma.

In other words, Khun Chang, Khun Phaen emerges from the traditions and worlds similar to that The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, The Old Testament, or Shakespeare. Unlike these works, though, Khun Chang, Khun Phaen even at 836 pages reads like a modern novel with an identifiable story, plot, and surprise ending. The fact that is not disjointed is, I suspect due to the skills of the editors/translators. Chris Baker and Pasuk Pongpaichit created a coherent "translation" by borrowing passages from various editions published in Thai by royal scribes between 1872 and 1918, who collected the various version narrated by the troubadours. Such "stitching together" is what gives the whole long tale its narrative coherence.

Finally to enliven the already lively story, Baker and Pasuk include numerous footnotes explaining the intricacies of Siamese court life, military practices, folk traditions, and of course the underlying story of romantic love. These in turn are supplemented by illustrations by Muangsai Janchai which help the reader breeze through otherwise vague descriptions of archaic palace, folk, and military practices. The result is an engaging, interesting and easy to read story.

Reading Khun Chang, Khun Phaen is a joy, not only for the story-line, but also the vivid descriptions of Siamese village, court, religious, and army life in the Siamese world of several hundred years ago. The King "roars like a lion," while those beseeching him prostate themselves before the dust beneath his feet. The colorful court has prostrating female sentinelles attend the King in a glittering gold-encrusted throne room. The word-images describing the royal court at Ayudhya reminded me a bit of the Wizard of Oz's own court.

Other characters are well-developed, too, especially the many-sided rake Khun Phaen and his wives, the greedy but nevertheless sympathetic Khun Chang, and the confused protagonist who married both men, the beautiful and romantic Wanthong. Even spirits, elephants, horses, and sprites populating the book are take on personalities.

James Grayson in a review in Folklore (London) noted: "The work will be of interest to the folklorist, and scholar of religious studies of any part of the world."
I think that the readership for Khun Chang, Khun Phaen should extend far beyond this limited group. Many people will find this book of interest, starting with those who simply like to read novels for entertainment on airplanes.

My one beef is that Khun Chang, Khun Phaen is not available in other formats, especially Kindle. Reading Khun Chang, Khun Phaen is ideal for airport/airplane reading, though its hefty weight may deter (836 pages of text, and 140 pages of notes and supplementary material).
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