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Thai epic goes global

The tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, a Thai literary classic, can now be read in English thanks to the endeavours of a British-Thai husband and wife team who spent seven years researching and translating the epic.

 

Khun Chang Khun Phaen is one of Thailand’s most popular folk tales about a love triangle that ends tragically. Legend suggests it’s based on a true story that took place some time around 1600, during the Ayutthaya period.

The epic developed in the oral tradition, recited to audiences for centuries before it was first compiled and published in Thai in 1872. A version republished by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab in 1917 has served as the standard Thai text since.

Written in verse, the classic runs for 75 chapters and is more than 1,000 pages long. “It’s not like any Western piece of literature, written by one person at a precise time; it grew,” says Chris Baker, a British writer and historian who translated the book into English with his wife, academic Pasuk Phongpaichit.

This literary tome may seem a departure from their usual hard-hitting social-political works, but it too has a message. “The tale is about social justice, especially for women,” Pasuk said. Due to the length and complexity of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the book took Baker and Pasuk seven years to complete before it was published in 2010 by Silkworm Books.

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