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Bangkok Wakes to Rain

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3.61  ·  Rating details ·  2,285 ratings  ·  432 reviews
A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary fate. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the house's resident spirits. In the present, a young woman tr ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 19th 2019 by Riverhead Books
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Darunee Wilson I looked, too, but the only connection seemed to be that Nee taught Mai to swim, and that Nee manages the building Mai lives in. Near the end Mai warn…moreI looked, too, but the only connection seemed to be that Nee taught Mai to swim, and that Nee manages the building Mai lives in. Near the end Mai warns Nee about the snake. But I definitely felt I was missing something.(less)
Darunee Wilson I thought it was Mai, because she talked about her parents being in the building. And then later I wondered if it was after her "transformation," beca…moreI thought it was Mai, because she talked about her parents being in the building. And then later I wondered if it was after her "transformation," because she takes Pig to see the spot where the boy lay.(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,285 ratings  ·  432 reviews


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Pitchaya
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
It's likely that I'm a little biased. ...more
Meike
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read, thailand
Sudbanthad's debut novel is a lyrical love letter to a city and its inhabitants - this book is truly enchanting and full of atmosphere, introducing various characters in order to tell the story of a vivid, loud, magical, sprawling protagonist: Bangkok. The narrative strands, set in the past, present and future, are like streets on a 3D map of the city, that evoke the spirit at the heart of the place - how can a text that is neither plot nor character driven be so captivating? Among the people we ...more
Ron Charles
"Bangkok Wakes to Rain” should come with a mop. This teeming debut novel by Pitchaya Sudbanthad re-creates the experience of living in Thailand’s aqueous climate so viscerally that you can feel the water rising around your ankles.

But Sudbanthad’s skills are more than just meteorological. A native of Thailand now living in New York, he captures the nation’s lush history in all its turbulence and resilience. Even the novel’s complex structure reflects Bangkok’s culture. The chapters flow back and
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This novel is an intertwining narrative between eras (Siam to Bangkok to New Krungthep) and characters that move in and out of each other's lives in sometimes unexpected ways. Take the sensory placeness of Murakami, the vibrant city of Thayil, and the connected but widely varied stories of David Mitchell and you'll get some of the feeling of the novel. I'll talk more about it on an upcoming podcast episode. ...more
Doug
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5, rounded down.

For some reason, I just could never get any momentum up while reading this book; partially that was due to the disjointed nature of the narrative (it's more or less a series of VERY loosely connected short stories, rather than a true novel), and while I enjoyed what I read, it just never grabbed me enough to read more than a few pages at a time. The prose is often very good, and it certainly evokes the place extremely well, but I had a hard time keeping the various strands and
...more
Will
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5, rounded up.

Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an ambitious, beautifully written and intricately plotted debut novel that had me engrossed from beginning to end. I am not always a fan of a novel of linked stories - which this is - but I was captivated by Sudbanthad's depiction of Bangkok. Sudbanthad's skill at using a non-linear narrative (often tricky) to trace the city's history and possible future was impressive. The 'stories' of various characters, lives that gradually connect and merge as the nov
...more
Erica
I don't know how to review this book. I don't even know how to shelve it.

Ok. So. It's about a house in Krung Thep, aka Bangkok to westerners. And it's told via a non-linear progression of vignettes that reach back to the late 1800's and forward to the 2050s? 60s? And there are overlapping characters.

Wait.
You know how I recently complained that I didn't really get a sense of Korea in The Plotters? The opposite happened here; I felt immersed in Bangkok. The funny thing is, I was only there - in Ba
...more
Joy D
Extremely creative, but disjointed, book about time, memory, transformation, and alienation. This book consists of a series of interconnected stories. The reader may be surprised by the sudden shifts from one set of characters to another, and one time period to another, with no warning. I wish I had known beforehand, since I had just become invested in one storyline when it shifts to a completely different scene.

Though portions take place in Japan, the UK, and the US, the central location of th
...more
Charles
Oct 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I never associated rain with sadness like some people do, at least not when we’re talking about the occasional shower. Rain can be gentle and soothing in the summer, or dramatic and powerful in the fall; not necessarily sad, not at all. As a child, growing up in a remote area by the sea, bouts of rain often made for spectacular moments, with the wind picking up and the waves going furious, and these are memories that I cherish. Decades later, now in the city, sometimes I’ll watch a downpour from ...more
Jan
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An amazing debut from the Center for Fiction First Novel shortlist, beautifully written, intricately constructed—a fascinating novel that rewards close attention to track the many, seemingly unrelated characters. Is there such a thing as Buddhist fiction? This book feels imbued with a Thai/Buddhist sensibility and it veers off, David Mitchell-like, into some unexpected directions. I’m left marveling and a bit gobsmacked.
Chris Blocker
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Three stories into Bangkok Wakes to Rain, I had a bad feeling about the “novel.” You see, there's been this trend in publishing lately where “novel” can mean many things. David Szalay's Booker nominated All That Man Is is an excellent example. It's a collection of short stories. (Publisher: No, it's a novel.) It may center on a theme, but that doesn’t make it a novel; it’s still just a collection of short stories. But short story collections do not sell as well as novels, nor do they get nominat ...more
Lauren
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sudbanthad's debut novel weaves storylines across space and time, linking back to the Thai capital and its cyclical rains and floods. A 19th-century missionary doctor treating cholera, an aging musician hired to play music for ghosts, two sisters in Thailand and Japan, a glimpse into the future of Bangkok underwater with people living in 'barge cities'. Sweeping scope, beautiful writing.

It's an easy comparison to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but there were some other intriguing elements here th
...more
Dawn F
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
I can’t put my finger on what was wrong with this. Despite being well written, the soul of Bangkok and of these characters eluded me entitely. At no point did I feel connected to anyone, or knew why I was reading about them. I was genuinely bored, which is an awful thing to be with a book, and disappointing when the premise sounded so promising. Alas.
LittleSophie
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
First of all, this is a gorgeous title and pretty much the reason why I picked it up.
And while I admired the evocative and assured language, I kept getting lost between the narrative snapshots. According to the blurb, a house in Bankok is what connects all of the episodes, but this is a rather tenuous link. I found it easier, in most cases, to follow the links between the characters, because the stories aren't always set in Bangkok.
Sudbhanthat aims to cover a lot of ground and time, touching on
...more
Sarah
Aug 24, 2019 marked it as dnf
Shelves: fiction
DNF @ 20%

One of my most anticipated books on my tbr... but loosely connected stories with characters I find hard to connect to are not what I want to be reading right now. :(
Alan Teder
Two Centuries of Krung Thep
Review of the Riverhead Books hardcover edition (2019)


Photograph of the Brahmin giant swing ritual in Bangkok, Thailand which was eventually banned in the early 20th century for safety reasons. Image sourced from Once Upon a Time in Bangkok.

Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a tour-de-force balancing act of interconnected stories spanning two centuries. My instinctive thought for an image to illustrate this review was to search for an historic photograph of the traditional (but
...more
sha
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
they had veered farther in their own directions across land and sea, but little embers like these were enough to light up the shape of each other's life.

i was originally going to rate this three stars but i feel like it deserves that fourth one considering reading it resulted in me being up at two in the morning doing research for a trip to bangkok, with the memory of tom yum soup and spicy pad thai on my tongue.

the novel's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness -- the dreamlike, disjoin
...more
Sue
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful read! Finally someone has written a book that captures the city of Bangkok! I can't wait until your next book Khun Pitchaya! One of my favorite lines in the whole book is "Places remember us". I so believe that! ...more
Neil
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
"How they all yearned to see acts that defied common expectation, that could push a man across the membrane that separated ordinary life from the imagination of better. The whole of human history depended on this desire."

Reading this book, I was strongly reminded of David Mitchell’s "Cloud Atlas" (a book I like a lot and have read several times). I found the writing style similar to the book and the structure really reminded me of the film version of Mitchell's book (for those who haven’t seen i
...more
Nicky
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5* rounded up.

"The city radiated from the river outward, and so did her madness"

Beautifully written and evocative from the title to the last sentence. This novel drifts and revisits the past, present and imagined future of Bangkok with seemingly unrelated characters and stories gradually weaving together. While some of the futuristic scenes were not as strong as the rest of the book, other’s particularly regarding the political history and student massacre of 1976 had me researching to find ou
...more
Grace
Around the World Reading Challenge: THAILAND
===
This was a really fascinating read, set primarily in Bangkok and weaving together different narratives from the past, present, and future. There's a fairly wide cast of characters, some more prominent than others, than span across many decades. The chapters are non-linear, and it's not clear until you're reading who and when is the focus. This is actually usually the kind of thing that drives me batty, but I thought it worked really well here--the c
...more
Book Concierge
Digital audiobook read by Euan Morton
3***

From the book jacket: A house in Bangkok is the confluence of lives shaped by upheaval, memory, and the lure of home. A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary future. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the house’s resident spir
...more
Bee
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Hasn’t the “people who are somehow connected through a place, person, whatever” method of book-writing been declared stale yet? What does non-linear timeline have to add to such poor story telling?
Instead of a loose connection, short and seperate stories would have worked better for me. As it is, i thought it was forced, contrived, and unnatural.

And what was that futuristic section at the end about?! I am sure there is better sci-fi out there to settle for this section.

There were some good ide
...more
Tripfiction
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A novel of BANGKOK across the centuries



Bangkok Wakes To Rain is an extraordinary debut novel – ambitious and wide ranging in both its content and its style.

People and families are interwoven across centuries – from the end of the 19th to an imagined future a few decades hence. The book ranges from an historical novel through to more of a Sci-Fi fantasy. Many stories exist and overlap, but there are two constants. The first is an ever evolving building. Built in colonial times, it is inhabited at
...more
Andrew
I saw this dude give a live reading a while ago, and it was at a former Thai palace, accompanied by the sort of bullshit food that tourists love, all over-sweet sauces and gaudy carved fruit and waitresses in sarongs, the sort of thing that I avoid at all costs. And my fear when I read Bangkok Wakes to Rain was that it would be the literary mirror of that experience.

It wasn't, but there were times when it came dangerously close. Because this isn't Thai literature for a Thai context, this is Tha
...more
Karin
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is very complicated--lots of timelines and characters who connect in ways that are easy to see and sometimes obscured. There's a large dash of cli-fi and sci-fi in here as well. Honestly: I can't get into what this book is about, because there are SO many different plot lines, but the overarching theme is about the passage of time and how the permanency of place is affected by time. If you like David Mitchell, give this book a shot. Honestly, I'm planning to re-read this in the next fe ...more
Sébastien
Sep 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bangkok Wakes To Rain is a debut novel by Thai novelist Pitchaya Sudbanthad. Told in non-linear timeline, it is an eco-fcition of the city Bangkok and how much it has changed through generations. It is a collection of short stories interlaced with recurrent characters—a missionary doctor, a divorced socialite, a jazz pianist, a student lost in the 1976 October massacre, two sisters separated 2000 miles, a construction worker, photographer wandering around the world, etc. A house in Bangkok is in ...more
RMazin
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a beautifully written book. The author cherishes the city and those who come to it. His linked stories are more like a kaleidoscope of tales that build upon the city’s past, present and future life. The people thrive, survive and change as Bangkok enfolds them within its rhythms. Subandthad, more than any other author I have recently read, has a gift for incorporating sound within each vignette. Sometimes it is jazz, traditional music, rushing water, flocks of birds, a c ...more
Drew
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Might actually round up to a 4.5, will assess as I think about the book for the next few days... because I definitely WILL be thinking about it. Sudbanthad pulls off an incredible feat with this novel, making his main character a city -- not the specific streets and buildings, not like in a noir novel or even in something like Mieville's PERDIDO STREET STATION, but the spirit of a metropolis. We bounce through time, from over a hundred years ago to possibly a hundred years from now, following so ...more
Faith
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: overdrive, audio
I liked the writing style, but the book was done in by its structure. The disjointed, loosely linked short stories didn’t form a coherent story. Then Part IV of the book totally lost me. Please don’t suddenly shift to sci fi at the end of a book.
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“Ambitious and sweeping, yet at once intimately crafted and shot through with fine detail, Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a sumptuous accomplishment.”
—Esquire

“An important, ambitious, and accomplished novel. Sudbanthad deftly sweeps us up in a tale that paints a twin portrait: of a megacity like those so many of us call home and of a world where sanctuary is increasingly hard to come by.”
—Mohsin Hamid,
...more

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