Thalei Lae Karnweila (Of Time and Tide - 1985) is a volume in the Thai Modern Classics series I mentioned in an earlier review
Though the physical books are largely out of print, the director of the series, Marcel Balang, maintains a website where electronic versions of the books can be purchased:
Atsiri Thammachoat (b. 1947) was born near the city of Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand to a family of fishermen, so in this story of the enormous changes that have occurred to third world fisherfolk in less than a generation he is writing from personal experience. Though the novel is strongly anchored in the concrete reality of fishermen, the story it tells of simple people struggling with sudden changes in their way of life, with rapacious entrepreneurs and with corrupt and greedy officials and police is very nearly universal.
Fishermen have to live with the fact that the sea is fickle - fickle in its willingness to render up its riches, but also fickle in its moods, from idyllic, sunny calm to raging, thundering waves and wind in a few hours, much too short a timespan to regain land. Uncountably many have been lost at sea. Noi, not yet 20, has already lost two husbands to the sea. So she marries a policeman with both feet on the ground bearing the name of Sommai. Ah, but life has other plans for her.
Atsiri illustrates the changes in the lives of the fishermen by comparing Noi's life with that of the narrator's mother. Most of the men in the story revolve like moons around these two women. For both generations life was hard and dangerous. And in case you don't know, the peace-loving Thai have terrible tempers that when finally released end with knife play, hatchets and guns.
The tale is told in an interesting, jerky, disjointed manner with multiple flashbacks and flashforwards which may be due to the fact that it was written to be serialized in a newspaper (not at all unusual in Asia). But this effect is by no means a drawback in Atsiri's hands. Frankly, the book is charmingly written in a sometimes colloquial language, as the structural conceit of the book (not consistently carried out) is that an unnamed narrator is telling his deceased mother what has been happening to the village and people.
An excerpt from one of the happier passages from the narrator's boyhood.
At the Eekueng Little Canal, we young ones would play pirates plundering ships. Siu was bigger and stronger than most of us and always landed the part of pirate leader. He'd crouch on the sandy beach alongside the canal and his mouth would blast us with such sharp gunshots that we scampered in fear.
Every time, he'd be shot dead in the end, fall into the water and pretend to float along with the current.
Once again, Marcel Barang provides a very informative introduction.