Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Banned Handley Biography of King Bhumibol, "The King Never Smiles," Flying off the Shelves in Singapore

SINGAPORE - A Singapore doctor I saw yesterday wouldn't stop talking about the Thai coup d'etat. The residents of the city state are taking interest in the political situation in Thailand.

A huge stack of the new King Bhumibol biography greets entrants to Singapore's largest bookstore. I watched as several customers perused copies of the The King Never Smiles.

Paul M. Handley's account of the king's life is an absorbing one to anyone who has taken an interest in the country's affairs, because the life of the world's longest-serving monarch is very much the story of modern Thailand. Handley, who reported for the Far East Economic Review from Bangkok during the 1990s, describes how the Thai monarch has had an impact on so many areas of Thai life -- transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, charities for the poor, punishment of criminals offenders, relations with Myanmar and Cambodia, and the military. And in Handley's view, the royal intrusion into these spheres has not necessarily been for the better (to put it mildly).

In the last chapter (written before the coup) Handley expresses concern that the two central figures in Thai politics, King Bhumibol and General Prem, are in their eighties. Handley speculates that in a worst case scenario -- when Thailand finds itself without either illustrious elder, the question of succession could even lead to civil war.

"Difficult times ahead for Thailand" would be an apt subtitle for this most timely book.

UPDATE: I just added this post, which covers a recent review of Handley's book.

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