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Growing up on the exotic estate of his aunts and wicked uncle, twelve-year-old Justin survives his family's superficial traditions as well as the civil rights movement of the 1960s by escaping into his imagination.
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Once referred to by the International Herald Tribune as “the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world,” Somtow Sucharitkul is no longer an expatriate, since he has returned to Thailand after five decades of wandering the world. He is best known as an award-winning novelist and a composer of operas. Born in Bangkok, Somtow grew up in Europe and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music. His earliest novels were in the science fiction field but he soon began to cross into other genres. In his 1984 novel Vampire Junction, he injected a new literary inventiveness into the horror genre, in the words of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, “skillfully combining the styles of Stephen King, William Burroughs, and the author of the Revelation to John.” Vampire Junction was voted one of the forty all-time greatest horror books by the Horror Writers’ Association, joining established classics like Frankenstein and Dracula. In the 1990s Somtow became increasingly identified as a uniquely Asian writer with novels such as the semi-autobiographical Jasmine Nights. He won the World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade given in the world of fantastic literature, for his novella The Bird Catcher. After becoming a Buddhist monk for a period in 2001, Somtow decided to refocus his attention on the country of his birth, founding Bangkok’s first international opera company and returning to music,. According to London’s Opera magazine, “in just five years, Somtow has made Bangkok into the operatic hub of Southeast Asia.” His operas on Thai themes, Madana, Mae Naak, and Ayodhya,have been well received by international critics. His most recent opera, The Silent Prince, was premiered in 2010 in Houston, and a fifth opera, Dan no Ura, will premiere in Thailand in the 2013 season. His sixth opera, Midsummer, will premiere in the UK in 2014. He is increasingly in demand as a conductor specializing in opera and in the late-romantic composers like Mahler. His work has been especially lauded for its stylistic authenticity and its lyricism. The orchestra he founded in Bangkok, the Siam Philharmonic, is mounting the first complete Mahler cycle in the region. He is the first recipient of Thailand’s “Distinguished Silpathorn” award, given for an artist who has made and continues to make a major impact on the region’s culture, from Thailand’s Ministry of CultureFrom Publishers Weekly:
In a daring synthesis of East and West, the Thai-born Somtow, whose previous books include several horror novels (including the popular Vampire Junction and its sequel, Valentine) spins a fiercely inventive, funny and moving story of a precocious Thai growing up in 1963 on an isolated estate with three eccentric, strict aunts. The 12-year-old narrator, a cunning if naive recluse named Justin, learns the art of adaptation, a skill he will sorely need, from his pet chameleon, Homer. His parents, absent for many years, may be CIA agents in Vietnam; his senile great-grandmother enacts scenes from Hitchcock's Psycho; and each of his aunts is secretly bedding the rakish family doctor. Meanwhile, Justin's treehouse playmate, Virgil, a black American from Georgia, oscillates between vernacular "Black English" and WASP-like diction, puncturing the racial stereotypes and prejudices of his and Justin's two comrades-one Afrikaner, one white American-and of Justin's aunts. The plot includes blackmail, seduction, shamanism; a raunchy metaphysical satire on sex and death; a send-up of the West's exotic image of the East; and a subversive parody of two genres, the coming-of-age novel and the mythic hero's quest. Even if the satire wears thin as incongruities pile up, Somtow's manic comic energy and gift for human drama power a novel of abundant riches.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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