11 July 2024

Khunying Wimon Chiamcharoen died on Monday September 13th, 2021. She was 85 years old, but the great Thai novelist will remain with us for many decades to come through her books, which were penned under 6 names, Tommayantee, Laksanawadee, Rose La Reine, Kanok-lekha, Mayawadee and Wim-la.

As Thailand’s most successful female writer of the 60’s and 70’s, she wrote many great novels, which appealed to various generations. Baby-boomers, Gen X and Gen Y share one thing in common, they all grew up enjoying her work in books, films, on television and on stage. One of Tommayantee’s most revisited novels is “Khu Kam”, a romance about a Thai woman, called Angsumalin, and Kobori, a Japanese soldier based in Thailand during World War II, which has been adapted for the big screen (in 1973, 1996 and 2013), TV series and musicals.

Her visions of love and science went well beyond her era. She talked about time travel in a love story that saw the characters travelling back to a bygone era. She saw romance between countries at war. If she had been born in a country with the apparatus to make her work more widely known, some of her books would, without a doubt, have become worldwide best sellers.

She did not always stick to the tradition of happy endings in her romances, such as in the much-loved novel “Khu Kam” in which the hero dies. That was very unusual for any novel of that period. No matter how many times the scene is created on film or on TV, it always reduces the audience to tears.

She took her readers on a journey through time in “Thawiphop”, long before Hollywood made the genre popular. The historical fantasy romance tells the story of a woman named Maneejan who time-travels [through a mirror] from the 20th century to the reign of King Rama V. “Khu Kam”, the classic time-travel novel, is also loved by her fans and repeatedly reread. The story was first adapted for film by late director Cherd Songsri in 1990 and has since been made into a stage play, a musical, a television series and a 2004 film called “Siam Renaissance”.

Though her fame came mostly from romantic novels, among Tommayantee’s famous works is “La” (Hunt), which is a horror story in which the heroine takes revenge on the bad guys who destroy her daughter. The horror was made into a movie by Sahamongkol Film in 1977 and into a TV series twice in 1994 and 2017.

In 2012, the Ministry of Culture named her a “National Artist” (Literature). When she was asked to submit one of her novels for an award, however, she declined, politely but firmly. “I’ve received an award from His Majesty the King’s (Rama IX) hand, so that is the greatest honour of my life and I do not wish to receive any other awards ever again,” she said.

Her last work was “Jom Sasada” (“The Great Prophet”), which she described as a story about the Lord Buddha. “It will be purely about the Lord Buddha and there won’t be any miracles in it. No one will read it before I die, so there won’t be any argument, like in the case of Dan Brown’s work.”

In her most recent interviews with the press, she talked about Maranasati (the Buddhist meditation practice of being aware that death can strike at any time). “I always remind myself about death. Death doesn’t last long, only a few minutes.”

Before her death, Thommayantee said clearly that she was ready to go and she would die in peace, as she had finished writing her last work and built “Lanna Dewalai”. Then, just like that, she left the world peacefully in her sleep on 13th September.

Maybe one of the saddest endings to one of her stories, the Kobori death, is upstaged by her own passing. If her time travelling vision is true, though, she could be somewhere else now, writing for Thais’ great grandchildren about life after death, and that is “resting in peace” for unique writers like her.

By Veena Thoopkrajae