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.
Where to find S.P. Somtow online
Where to buy in print
The Stone Buddha's Tears
S.P. Somtow's novel The Stone Buddha's Tears was inspired by a real-life incident in 1991 in which the city of Bangkok, about to host an international conference, decided to throw up a corrugated iron fence around a slum in order to conceal it from passing delegates. Two boys concoct a team of street kids, taxi drivers and elephant herders in a wild plan to bring down the fence.
S.P.Somtow has assembled a collection of essays, poems, and fiction - and tells all about his first published poem from 1967, which earned a lengthy shelf life when it was used as the epigraph for a best-selling autobiography by Shirley MacLaine - to his first professional fiction sale in 1977 - to stories that won major awards like the World Fantasy Award.
Dragon's Fin Soup
Dragon's Fin Soup: And Other Modern Siamese Fables by World Fantasy Award Winner S.P. Somtow.
Eight Rowdy Tales where East and West don't meet - they collide.
Eight Frightening Ruminations where nothing is as it seems, and even the unreal is an illusion.
Eight Delectable Servings that could only have sprung from the fevered mind of S.P. Somtow.
At twelve years old, Little Frog has a richly fantastic and sustaining inner life. It is 1963, his parents have disappeared, and he lives with his maiden aunts, known affectionately as the Three Fates, on a family estate in Bangkok. But, fed by a steam of books and accompanied by his pet chameleon, Little Frog refuses to accept that he is Thai; eats English food; speaks only English...
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