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Book Review: by Lang Reid
Looking for Mr. Rin
for Mr. Rin, A Family’s Roots in Northeast Thailand” is published by Falling
Rain Publications, ISBN 978-463-419, and is printed in Ubon, written by
Lawrence Whiting. Author Whiting is a British expat, who had married one of
the eight daughters of Mr. Rin and his wife Yai Hom.
Mr. Rin, it turns out, was a native of Phana, a small province in
north-eastern Isan, and the author soon saw that his chronicle of the family
he had married into was also the chronicle of the life (and times) of the
patriarch Mr. Rin Mahanil, a teacher and small farmer.
Author Whiting notes that for most of the Isan people, the roots back to Lao
are very strong. He mentions that at family gatherings, “Pensri and her
sisters spoke Lao together, rather than Thai, … with prolonged and
tear-inducing laughter among themselves, and a bemused sense of alienation
amongst the rest of us.”
Further on in the book, he shows historically the ethnicity that holds the
Isan people together with the Laos peoples, following the ceding of much of
the region to the French in 1893 (to form French Indo-China) and the need
for King Chulalongkorn to then consolidate “Siam” as one country and not a
collection of vassal states. Much of this is then expanded upon in the
writings done by Mr. Rin throughout his long life.
Author Whiting writes much in the early parts of the book of his anxiety in
becoming part of an Isan family, with all its deep roots. Later he has the
problems of trying to strike a balance in life for his children, half Thai
and half English. He comments, “It is difficult to achieve cross-cultural
balance, let alone equality, when one culture is seen as generally more
highly developed than another, particularly on economic terms, and it would
have been easy to allow the Thai half of their heritage to be submerged by
He goes on to write, “The English culture had lots to offer them in the
terms of literature, and the tradition of parliamentary democracy, the Thai
side had more to offer in the areas of interpersonal relationships,
traditional practices and customs and the extended family network that
provided such a secure framework for Pensri and her sisters.”
The book gives a very detailed account of not only the lives of an Isan
family, but also Isan ceremonies and rituals, including the cremations of
Mr. Rin and his wife.
“Looking for Mr. Rin” is available at most good bookshops with an RRP of B.
550, though copies can also be purchased directly from the author through
the contact email lawrenceinphana@hotmail. com. For those expatriates who
are married to an Isan lady, this book will undoubtedly mirror their own
experiences of marrying into a Thai family (make no mistake, they do not
marry into the husband’s family to the same extent), and also perhaps go
towards explaining the seemingly complex cultural mores that the Lao-Thai
possess. It held my attention all the way through, and I found it to be
insightful as well as entertaining. A good read.
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