Under the title The Tragedy of King Bhumibol, Andrew MacGregor Marshall reviews King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, November 2011). This is the multiple authored book managed by a royalist editorial advisory board chairman under former prime minister Anand Panyarachun.
Readers will recall that PPT posted on the book some time ago, stating that:
Anand promises “deep, previously unknown insights into King’s life and the monarchy with ‘no attempts to hide the truth or run away from debates’.” He says it is “not a sugar-coated description of the world’s longest-reigning monarch and the work in English was written by a group of experts with knowledge and long experience in Thailand.”
The experts are said to be Chris Baker, David Streckfuss, Porphant Ouyyanont, Julian Gearing, Paul Wedel, Richard Ehrlich, Robert Horn, Joe Cummings, Robert Woodrow, Nicholas Grossman and Dominic Faulder.
Baker is certainly a respected writer on Thailand but has seldom trespassed in any critical manner on issues related to the monarchy. Streckfuss is the expert on lese majeste and Porphant is the leading expert on the Crown Property Bureau. Respectfully, and wishing to be fair but critical, none of the rest are more than long-term journalists, some of whom haven’t written much for a very long time (e.g. Wedel), others write pretty lightweight journalism (e.g. Cummings) and some are pretty much yellow-shirted monarchists.
The book seems to be contextualized as a kind of royalist “antidote” to Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles, with Anand claiming it is meant to
help Thai and foreign readers understand the whole gamut of Thailand’s 750-year-old institution and all related implications, real or imagined, especially those related to HM the King, his role and life-long work.
In another post, we mentioned two journalistic accounts of the book.
Marshall provides the first long and critical review. In fact the link we have above is just to the first part of the review, which largely contextualizes the book within the political struggles, lese majeste repression and deep crisis that has enveloped Thailand since (at least) the 2006 coup.
It is only towards the end of this first part that Marshall gets to King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work. He states:
There is really no polite way of saying this. King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work is a staggeringly awful book. The content is overwhelmingly inane, the style is relentlessly inept, and the entire project is tainted by a corrosive dishonesty that renders it worthless.
Interestingly, Marshall begins with a statement made on the very first page of text, under Anand’s name, in a statement that caught PPT’s attention as well, when we first opened the book:
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand succeeded to the throne on 9 June 1946. He left the kingdom shortly afterwards to complete his university education in Switzerland.
Like Marshall, we were staggered by this statement for it implies – and it is never elaborated elsewhere in the book – that the king graduated from his Swiss university studies. He didn’t. We thought the collective authors might have stated that his car accident forced him to drop out or that pressures to return to Thailand caused him to leave his studies incomplete.
But to say that may have risked tarnishing the myth of the “great man” image that the royalist propaganda has built. So the book is silent. As Marshall points out, not only is “Anand is being economical with the truth,” and “By the second sentence of KBAALW, in the foreword, before the main body of the book even begins, readers are already being misled.”
That’s far from the fearless account Anand promised, that wouldn’t be “sugar-coated” or just more of the same syrupy royalist propaganda.
The second part of Marshall’s review will be eagerly awaited.