SUK
Khor Kok Kheng - Suk's Story            SUK is a sequence of nine novels presented in four volumes, set chiefly in Klong Graitin, a country town in Isan and its forests nearby and elsewhere in the kingdom of Thailand.  The time is the recent past and the present except for the third volume The Edge of Events. This adds a historical dimension, earlier in the twentieth century, and is located variously in East Africa, the Tenasserim in Burma and adjoining parts of what was then Siam. Six of the nine novels, the major narrative, are built around the central character, Suk herself, small, vital and impatient, a Thai woman born into poverty but who assumes she can create herself and mould her world. This confident outlook is dented but not destroyed by hubris and occasional violence.

            The sequence is realistic and explicit. It is concerned about how we should regard life and each other positively. It assumes that our existence is delightful and productive, potentially at least. The human condition is not absurd and need not be tragic if we choose to use our heads. Although mostly set in Thailand, the sequence assumes the universality of human nature and human experience. The tone of the novels is genial, often humourous, as befits Suk’s own outlook on life which is fundamentally engaged and optimistic.

PayPal: Suk's Quartet cost of complete set of four volumes excluding delivery SGD$125
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Volume 1: SUK’S PROGRESS

Suk's Quartet: Suk's Progress
Volume 1: Suk’S Progress - ISBN 978 0 9941 7562 5

1.The First of Earthly Blessings
2.The Glare of Contradiction
3.Starry Heavens

            Consciously attempting to establish herself and gain control of her fortunes, Suk starts work as a domestic for a Thai-Australian family through which she meets her first lover, Richard. An accident frees her from amiable servitude and further encounters enable her to become a trek guide in the forests of the kingdom of Thailand. Suk experiences the full range of the human comedy with a medley of visitors and acquaintances as well as suffering the complications of a love triangle. Significant amongst those she meets, are Bernard, an Australian zoologist, Ching, a wealthy Thai-Chinese woman from the capital, and Light, a Thai polymath of eclectic descent. The action takes place chiefly in the small country town of Klong Graitin and two hotels nearby, the House of Vasa and the Forest Lodge. Suk is lucky to survive fanatical violence and ends the first stage of her life with her cherished independence barely intact – and with a baby.

Our benign efforts all add up, they accumulate and have force, even failure has effect.

Excerpt from The First of Earthly Blessings
Excerpt from The Glare of Contradiction
Excerpt from Starry Heavens


Volume 2: SUK’S CODE

Suk's Quartet: Suk's Code
Volume 2: Suk’s Code - ISBN 978 0 9941 7563 2

4.Slave to the Passions       
5.Sensible Knaves               

            Suk is confronted by the insidious dangers of ordinary human inadequacy and malice. While also involved in the hotel trade around Klong Graitin, she continues to run her independent trek business. She is haunted by the return of characters from her past, notably Chang, a fat banker, Orde, a recluse, and Tum, a decorative scoundrel. Suk’s present is confused by the complications and contradictions of both her working and love lives. By now she has two demanding small children as well as exacting or eccentric bosses and a pair of insubordinate subordinates. Her explorations of the wilderness are chiefly in the western forests of the kingdom and culminate in an expedition looking for a lone Javan rhinoceros near the Burmese border. Suk eventually manages to bring the complexities of her occupation  and her loves to a resolution which, if not ideal, is at least satisfactory.

Mankind is like a boat at sea. We can only mend or improve things plank by plank.

Excerpt from Slave to the Passions
Excerpt from Sensible Knaves

GM Spencer painting Terminalia trees
Terminalia Trees by George Marley Spencer.

Volume 3: THE EDGE OF EVENTS

Suk's Quartet: The Edge of Events
Volume 3: The Edge of Events - ISBN 978 0 9941 7564 9

6. On the Edge
7. Beyond the Edge

            This volume is variously set in eastern Africa, the Tenasserim, the long extension of Burma which abuts Siam, and Siam herself before, during and a little after the First World War. Powell, a British officer, civil and military, is preoccupied with his memories of two women, English Lucy and Lat, a Mon. His African lakeside depot, cut off by the Germans and thrown onto its own resources, contains a small garrison of black and white troops, many sick or injured, and a few other Europeans and Indians. Powell is confronted by various exigencies and the antics of the characters under his command, as his outpost awaits an inevitable German attack.

            In the second part, Powell is demobilized and separated from his wife Lucy. He returns to the Tenasserim to find Lat who has moved across the border into Siam. Powell sets out with Maclean Dun and his Japanese wife to walk through the forests and over the hills which separate British Burma from the kingdom of Siam. Arriving in Nakhon Trak, he stays with a German doctor and eventually locates Lat, now married to a Danish geologist. A series of contacts and misadventures obliges him to retreat back over the mountains to the Tenasserim and a surprising outcome.

Mrs Maclean was an individual endowed with wit who could rise off her backside and take life by its throat.

Excerpt from On the Edge
Excerpt from Beyond the Edge

GM Spencer painting Miombo woodland
Miombo Woodland by George Marley Spencer.

Volume 4: SUK’S ENDS

Suk's Quartet: Suk's Ends
Volume 4: Suk's Ends - ISBN 978 0 9941 7565 6

8.Pernicious Maxims
9.Ingenuous Natures

            In the first part of the last volume, the two narratives of the sequence, the major, involving Suk, and the minor, involving Powell, are united when Suk’s first lover Richard marries Hika, Powell’s great-grand-daughter. Richard has moved to a Sydney estate, locally known as Paradise, which is preoccupied by a series of sexual incidents involving children. The problems of Paradise are interspersed with an account of the travails of Burma, from the Japanese invasion to the present, seen mostly through the eyes of Hika’s Anglo-Burman community.

            The second part is set once more in Klong Graitin where Suk is facing problems with her young children and their education. She is now the manager of the House of Vasa which attracts various academics from Australian universities, mostly colleagues of Suk’s husband, Bernard. One of these begins an unhappy relationship with Suk’s childminder, Tara. Disillusioned by this, he contemplates suicide but instead ends up lost in a mountain forest. Suk’s local acquaintance, Tum, becomes involved with the newly appointed head of the English Institute. The complications arising from a reckless affair lead to an outside intervention and the takeover of the Institute by Suk’s friend, Ching. In the meantime, in order to save her marriage and give her children a bilingual education, and feeling constrained by her more powerful friends, Suk contemplates a move to Australia.

Truth is an obstinate old buffalo, stuck in its mud.

Excerpt from Pernicious Maxims
Excerpt from Ingenuous Natures

Khor Kok Kheng - Suk's Progress

Characters in SUK Parts 1-5, 8-9
Characters in SUK Parts 6-8