‘A Good True Thai’ – finalist for the 2020 Epigram Books Fiction Prize by Sunisa Manning


“A Good True Thai” is a riveting debut novel set in Thailand about three young people whose paths converge at university, where they are swept up by political activism and the thrill of first love. 

Set during the 70’s democracy movement, and inspired by true events, A Good True Thai is an historic epic that takes the reader through Thailand’s most famous period of political and artistic openness, and asks the question: is democracy the most equitable type of government, or a foreign import suitable only in the West.

About the Author:
Sunisa Manning was born and raised in Bangkok to a Thai mother and an American father. She now lives in California, where she has received the Hedgebrook residency and been the recipient of the Steinbeck Fellowship and the SF Writers Grotto Emerging Writer fellowship. A Good True Thai was a finalist for the 2020 Epigram Books Fiction Prize and will be published in September in Southeast Asia.

Interviewing the Author:
My novel was inspired by stories my mom and uncle told me about the ‘70s, how it was a time of artistic openness. Lots of plays, stories, and novels were published. I started reading about the student movement of 1973. I got fascinated, and then I was obsessed.

My novel is fiction. I made it up, although the larger events, from ‘73 to ‘76, are true to history. It took me five years to write the book from start to finish. I did a ton of research, both reading history books and dissertations, but also interviewing people involved in the events of the novel.

I feel like I have a unique position as someone who is Thai, born and raised in Bangkok, and also American. I felt that I could tell a story in English that is unlike much of what is written about Thailand. We have some great translated literature. I’m a big fan of Susan Kepner and Mui Poopoksakul’s translations. But the stuff written in English is usually by American or English guys married to a young Thai wife. They want to tell the “true story” of the “seedy underbelly” of the Kingdom. I’m using a lot of quotation marks because obviously I disagree with this way of looking at Thailand. I wanted to tell stories from within.

For Thai people, we don’t walk around thinking: my, this food is so delicious and exotic. My! These people are so kind and strangely hospitable. Right? We just are. We’re playful and fun-loving and real. And we have a pretty complex moment in the ‘70s that is usually not talked about, not to foreigners anyway.

I was drawn to the tangle of what students and some citizens worked for then, and what happened. This was part of a larger moment in Southeast Asia, the struggle between Communism and, broadly, the US-sponsored nationalist movements. You have to look at this in the context of the Cold War, which was fought in Southeast Asia too. Thailand was just one country going through this struggle. It was an interesting time that is rich material for a novelist.

I hope Westerners living in Thailand pick the novel up to find out more about the country they live in; I hope Thais see themselves in the book I wrote. That they see themselves as real, interesting people, and not just a stereotype. I wrote the novel I wish I had been able to read growing up, and that I wish I could have given to friends when I studied literature in the US at Brown University, when friends asked to learn more about my homeland. I hope to do this through my career: to write the books that I wish I could have read.

“My first novel A Good True Thai is coming out mid-September in Southeast Asia…”

For more info, visit: https://www.sunisamanning.com/