KATYA AND THE PRINCE OF SIAM by Eileen with Narisa Chakrabongse Hunter


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A workmanlike account of Prince Chakrabongse of Siam's marriage to a Russian commoner in 1906. Katya's story begins with 19th-century King Mongkut--the ruler made famous in the West through his children's governess, whose memoir inspired the popular musical The King and I. A benevolent monarch, Mongkut instituted numerous reforms. His son, King Chulalongkorn, continued in his father's footsteps, bringing hospitals and public education to Siam, visiting foreign rulers, and sending his own children to be educated abroad. Of these 77 children, Prince Chakrabongse was arguably his father's favorite, the most charming and intelligent son of the king's favorite wife, Supreme Queen Saowabha. In 1898, when he was 13, Chakrabongse was sent to Russia at the czar's invitation. He lived there for eight years and met Ekaterina Ivanovna Desnitsky (Katya), whom he married secretly and brought home to Siam. No member of the royal family had ever married a foreigner, and Katya was never acknowledged by Chulalongkom. Saowabha, however, eventually reconciled herself to the marriage, especially when Katya gave birth to a son, Chula. For a time Katya and Chakrabongse seemed content; at his brother's ascension to the throne Chakrabongse was named prince regent, while Katya became fluent in Siamese and fond of her new home. But their marriage soured when Chakrabongse had an affair with a 15-year-old princess, and the two were divorced in 1919. Chakrabongse died less than a year later; Katya remarried and died in America in 1960 at the age of 72. Chula moved to England, where he met and married Lisba Hunter, the authors' sister and mother, and lived there until his early death from cancer in 1964. Best for its descriptions of royal decadence, in Siam and abroad, but notably lacking in any exploration of the racial tensions that lie at the heart of this strange tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1995
Page count: 222pp
Publisher: "River Books dist. by P.E.I. (6001 Johns Rd., Tampa, FL 33634)"