Lives of Thai Temple Boys is a cross-cultural coming-of-age collection of stories based on the author's experiences in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an adolescent temple boy from the South of Thailand then living at a Buddhist temple and going to school in Bangkok.
Although they very much embody aspects of the culture of Thailand, these stories are also universal and recognizable for the human emotions and relationships they portray. Maitree Limpichart writes insightfully and with the humor, surprise, and irony for which he is well known. It has been remarked that one can see in Limpichart's writing similarities to the short stories of the American author O. Henry.
The subject matter is intriguing and wide-ranging as a sampling of the stories illustrates: the quirkiness of a feminine boy (Order and Propriety in the Temple), conflicting Thai and Western notions of nudity (Life at the Water Faucet), parental death and loss (A Telegram from Home), perseverance and dedication (The Remarkable Mr. Ying), and the personality who stands out and marches to the beat of his own drummer (Ai Neuk and More About Ai Neuk).
Originally serialized in magazines, these stories were first published in book form as a collection in 1976. The book was selected by the Thai Ministry of Education to be included on a supplemental reading list, and since 1976 has been reprinted 36 times. To date, more than 700,000 copies have been sold in Thailand. It remains a favorite among young adults and adults of all ages.
This translation seeks to preserve the nature and feeling of that culture and allows the reader to venture into and experience life in an unfamiliar setting. Each chapter begins with an illustration of the story to come and focuses on a fascinating personality and an aspect of temple-boy life from which poignant, humorous and sometimes universal lessons of life may be drawn.
These stories have never before been translated or published in English.
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read what others are saying
"the content and conflicts . . . paint a rich profile of life and longings among young strivers . . . For the temple boys, most of them from impoverished rural families . . . it’s a life of austerity and persistent hustling to make ends meet. The daily struggle for survival is a persistent, though gentle, picaresque adventure that most of the boys weather with a little help from their friends. Limpichart’s alter ego/narrator engages with problems of moral responsibility, ponders his prospects . . . and takes in a cast of colorful acquaintances, including a hard-luck aspiring boxer who is hopeless in the ring, a gay roommate who makes a pass at him, and a sly con man who scams food by crashing funerals and weddings. The content and conflicts . . . paint a rich profile of life and longings among young strivers. At their best, as in a tale in which the narrator returns to his hometown when his father dies, Limpichart achieves a quiet but moving emotional power . . . these winsome narratives unfold as loose-limbed, shaggy dog stories that often close with an ironic punch line and an Aesopian moral.”
"When Stephen Landau contacted me online to offer me a copy of Lives of Thai Temple Boys: A Collection of Short Stories from Thailand, I was intrigued. Being married to a Thai man and having written novels for children based on Thai culture, I could hardly wait for the book to arrive. I was not disappointed. As my husband eagerly dove into the stories, he shared with me that his father had actually lived as one of these temple boys, serving the monks in exchange for room and board. But aside from my personal connection to this material, the stories are truly delightful. Often shaded with gentle humor, each story richly details aspects of human nature. The collection is a peek into a specific time and place not generally available to Westerners—the culture of temple boys in 1950s and 60s Thailand. The material is gracefully translated and footnoted. Charming illustrations add context."
— Carolyn Marsden
Award-winning author of multicultural/historical fiction for young adults and children
Maitree Limpichart creates a beautiful selection of stories that will transport readers through space and time . . . into the colorful and challenging world of a teenager growing up in Thailand. The author combines humor, irony, symbolism, and has a powerful gift for capturing minute details in beautiful prose to enchant . . . readers with his stories. The characters are well-sculpted and easy to relate to, but what is most fascinating—at least to me—was a world and a culture I would love to witness.
— Christian Sia
“[In this] collection of fifteen ‘short stories’ of temple life in the 1950s and 60s . . . common themes emerge: the pull of family ties from home, and the strength of de facto family ties in the temple, the daily struggle for money and food, the importance of sharing what little one does have and of caring for friends and strangers, the stigma of poverty and the system of intergenerational obligation and respect. These themes emerge thanks to Stephen Landau’s very able translation [that displays a] sensitivity [and] an almost insider’s perspective of Thai culture.”
— Thom G. Huebner, Professor Emeritus
Linguistics & Language Development
San Jose State University
Visiting Professor Chulalongkorn and Thammasat Universities