Bangkok Wakes To Rain is a debut novel by Thai novelist Pitchaya Sudbanthad. Told in non-linear timeline, it is an eco-fiction of the city Bangkok and how much it has changed through generations. It is a collection of short stories interlaced with recurrent characters—a missionary doctor, a divorced socialite, a jazz pianist, a student lost in the 1976 October massacre, two sisters separated 2000 miles, a construction worker, photographer wandering around the world, etc. A house in Bangkok is intricately linked to all of these characters.
It is a mixture of historical fiction, contemporary realism and futuristic fantasy as some stories incorporated real events occurred in the past, some based on current timeline and some are written with the imagination of what it would be like in futuristic Bangkok. It is the writer’s beautiful homage to his beloved city, Bangkok, with the cocktail of emotions.
This novel explored the major forces that drive the change of Bangkok. It also traversed on the inevitable challenge we all are facing today. Bangkok is one of the cities at greatest risk from the effects of climate change. Global warming and the rise of sea level are just the first layers of climate change. The social and economic challenges that entail upon several lives of people living in the city will be much more difficult to find solutions. Bangkok is rapidly transforming into a metropolis through multiple of today’s technological advancements. The writer gives readers a nudge to climate change and the trajectory of its impact.
Due to its disjointed nature of narrative and the loose connections between the stories, I was a little confused in some earlier stories. But when I got the hang of it, it was a compelling read. The wet and humid Bangkok was explored via abundance of characters in different decades. Entrancing and evocative. 4 out of 5 stars.
Pitchaya Sudbanthad is a native of Thailand, now living in New York. ‘Bangkok Wakes to Rain’ was selected as a New York Times and Washington Post notable book of the year and a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.