Krungthep, Bangkok, New Krungthep—the Thai capital city goes by many names and assumes many, ever-changing facades in Bangkok Wakes to Rain. Past and future intermingle like the waters that converge in the Chao Phraya river running through the heart of the city.
Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s first novel ranges wide in time and scope, and the author masterfully captures dozens of different voices and thoughts in his vast cast: the vagabond photographer who avoids returning to his ancestral home; a 19th-century missionary doctor who wants nothing more than a transfer to another posting when he first arrives in Siam; studious young swimmer Mai who achieves success in business that is the stuff of sci-fi dreams; a wandering jazz pianist who goes by “Crazy Legs” and plays for hours in the nightclubs; sisters Nee and Nok, who find themselves forever affected by the student political protests of the 1970s. Teenage girls obsessed with their looks grow into mothers, spouses cheat, parents age and die, and sons and daughters are born.
This ambitious novel’s many overlapping stories chart a fast pace, and at times, the connective thread between them gets muddled. Sudbanthad’s narrative flits around and back and forth, much like the colorful parrots that inhabit the old colonial house at the epicenter of the novel and, later, the animatronic birds used to scan the infrastructure of the city in a technologically advanced future. The lives of the people who call, or once called, Krungthep home are inextricably tied to this place.
In this city prone to flooding, rain is a constant, continually washing away what once was. And yet, in the words of a mother, “truth lingers, unseen like phantoms but there to rattle and scream wherever people try hardest to forget.”