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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

DECEMBER 3, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 48

cover Cashing In
A new book on the royals is unessential reading
By DOMINIC FAULDER

In 1990, husband-and-wife authors William Stevenson and Monika Jensen-Stevenson found a measure of fame with 'Kiss the Boys Goodbye', a work that outlined an alleged conspiracy by the U.S. government to conceal the fact that American POWs were left behind at the end of the Vietnam war. Many experts were unhappy with the way facts and rumors were stitched together in that narrative. Among them was Malcolm McConnell. With the advantage of access to previously unavailable North Vietnamese material, he later wrote in 'Inside Hanoi's Secret Archives' that 'Kiss the Boys Goodbye' was a "flawed book."

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Now William Stevenson is back in the public eye with 'The Revolutionary King - A True-Life Sequel to The King and I', which purports to be a biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. And this book, no doubt intended to cash in on the new Jodie Foster-Chow Yun-fat movie, is also deeply flawed. Published in London by Constable, the work is stuffed with the most astonishing errors, right from the opening map to the concluding "simplified" genealogy. The latter implies that King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, was the son of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, when both were sons of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. The map shows the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet, as it has never been seen before - a third of Laos has been gobbled up by China. Bangladesh has been totally eliminated and the royal palace in Hua Hin has been shifted clean across the Gulf of Thailand to somewhere in the vicinity of Rayong on the eastern seaboard.

Later in the book, Stevenson asserts that in the late 1940s it was possible to watch from the palace as "purple monsoon thunderheads march across Cambodia from Vietnam," and that the palace was "only two hours by powerboat across the Gulf of Siam to the safety of French-run Cambodia." In its true location, Hua Hin is some 320 km from the closest point in Cambodia, which would sorely test the best eyesight and the speediest powerboat.

Thai politicians don't fare much better. We are told Gen. Chatrachai Choonhavan "resigned" after mishandling a devastating storm in the south. Most would agree that Chatrachai was removed in 1991 in a coup, and that the Chumphon disaster that Stevenson is probably describing occurred more than a year earlier.

Stevenson reports that the economic crash of 1997 reduced Bangkok's population to five million from an estimated 10 million (highly improbable), leaving the "neo-Nazi" Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel "derelict" (it has fared better than most in hard times). Suspect chronology pops up right through the book. We are told Police Gen. Phao Sriyanon tried to compromise a visiting British official in the 1950s "with tours of the notorious sex shows in Patpong." This was decades before they existed.

It would be pedantic to continue with a list of the book's shortcomings. They are so numerous and glaring in areas that have been relatively well covered as to cast doubt upon any fresh material, however interesting, for which we must depend on Stevenson's reliability. A reputable publisher would withdraw this book immediately and, at the very least, subject it to a total line-by-line re-edit. To no one's surprise, 'The Revolutionary King - A True-Life Sequel to The King and I' is not available in Thailand.

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