A Thai national, Dhiravegin explores the many factors that shape identities in his earnest debut.
As the subtitle suggests, Dhiravegin’s book sets out with a seemingly straightforward agenda: to consider how Asian culture and other parameters, including marital status, religion, and nationality, might mold character. For example, in a discussion about the role of provincial identities, he notes how Thai northeasterners face silent ridicule in the cities, which could lead them to hide their background. He also discusses how Thai artists are perceived. Painters and sculptors, Dhiravegin points out, are often labeled “sinlapin sigh hang,” which translates to “artists who have dried intestines,” a tongue-in-check jab at their poverty. Additional material, including an endless catalog of world festivals, seems randomly included. The net result is a work that brims with factoids but doesn’t quite meet the goal set in its title. Stilted writing doesn’t improve the effort: “I would like to tell you about how I acquired an understanding of the subject which has allowed me to present to you some good material that is in the form of this book.” Dhiravegin occasionally references research papers to give the material more heft, but the results are often vague. When he does offer more specificity—criticizing Thai soap operas for selecting only handsome leads, for example—he quickly dulls the impact of such statements by apologizing for his stance. The parts of the book that shed light on Thai society are intriguing and informative. The evolving role of the country’s women, as they have tried to move from being “the hind legs of an elephant” to demanding that their individuality be recognized, is a particularly good example. In the end, although the book promises to “better our daily lives” and “increase happiness overall,” that goal is lost in a confused assemblage of details.
Scattershot analyses of Thai societal characteristics don’t support this murky treatise.