Det, Chang and Lek are young university students living in Thailand during the 1970s. It is a turbulent time for the country’s politics: student-led protests in 1973 succeeded in (briefly) overthrowing the country’s military dictatorship. Det, Chang and Lek — three students from very different backgrounds — navigate the country’s changing politics from the streets of Bangkok to the jungles of northern Thailand.
This is the premise behind A Good True Thai (Epigram Books: 2020), the debut novel by Sunisa Manning, and a finalist for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize for Southeast Asian writers.
In this interview, Sunisa and I discuss the historical setting of her book, and how much her characters represent the dynamics and emotions of Thailand’s student activists. We also discuss the process of writing historical fiction, and some of the parallels one might draw with today’s protest, with reference to Sunisa's recent piece for Nikkei Asia, "Thailand's punctured monarchy".
Sunisa Manning was born and raised in Bangkok by Thai and American parents. She went to Brown University and now lives in California. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Rumpus and other places.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.