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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 and in the 1970s, his first return to Asia, he acquired a reputation as a revolutionary composer, the first to combine Thai and Western instruments in radical new sonorities. Conditions in the arts in the region at the time proved so traumatic for the young composer that he suffered a major burnout, emigrated to the United States, and reinvented himself as a novelist.
His earliest novels were in the science fiction field and he soon won the John W. Campbell for Best New Writer as well as being nominated for and winning numerous other awards in the field. But science fiction was not able to contain him and he 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. He has also published children's books, a historical novel, and about a hundred works of short fiction.
In the 1990s Somtow became increasingly identified as a uniquely Asian writer with novels such as the semi-autobiographical Jasmine Nights and a series of stories noted for a peculiarly Asian brand of magic realism, such as Dragon's Fin Soup, which is currently being made into a film directed by Takashi Miike. He recently won the World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade given in the world of fantastic literature, for his novella The Bird Catcher. His forty-seven books have sold about two million copies world-wide.
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, where he again reinvented himself, this time as a neo-Asian neo-Romantic composer. The Norwegian government commissioned his song cycle Songs Before Dawn for the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize, and he composed at the request of the government of Thailand his Requiem: In Memoriam 9/11 which was dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy.
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 and Mae Naak, have been well received by international critics. He is directing Wagner's Ring Cycle for the Bangkok Opera, a four-year project which recently received full page coverage in the New York Times.
His current project is Ayodhya, a modern opera that retells the entire Ramayana in a single evening. He has written both the libretto and the music for this spectacular work which will premiere in November 2006 and which he has dedicated to His Majesty the King.