Tamara Loos's most recent book, Bones around My Neck: The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur, narrates the story of Prince Prisdang Chumsai (1852–1935). He served as Siam’s first diplomat to Europe during the most dramatic moment of Siam’s political history, when its independence was threatened by European imperialism. Despite serving with patriotic zeal, he suffered irreparable social and political ruin based on rumors about fiscal corruption, sexual immorality, and political treason. In Bones around My Neck, Tamara Loos pursues the truth behind these rumors, which chased Prisdang out of Siam. Her book recounts the personal and political adventures of an unwitting provocateur who caused a commotion in every country he inhabited.
Prisdang spent his first five years in exile from Siam living in disguise as a commoner and employee of the British Empire in colonial Southeast Asia. He then resurfaced in the 1890s in British Ceylon, where he ordained as a Buddhist monk and became a widely respected abbot. Foreigners from around the world were drawn to this prince who had discarded wealth and royal status to lead the life of an ascetic. His fluency in English, royal blood, acute intellect, and charisma earned him an importance in international diplomatic and Buddhist circles. Prisdang’s life journey reminds us of the complexities of the colonial encounter and the recalibrations it caused in local political cultures. His drama offers more than a story about Siamese politics: it also casts in high relief the subjective experience of global imperialism. Telling this history from the vantage point of a remarkable individual grounds and animates the historical abstractions of imperialism, Buddhist universalism, and the transformation of Siam into a modern state.
Her first book, /Subject Siam: Family, Law, and Colonial Modernity in Thailand/ considered Siam's place as a colonized and colonizing power in Southeast Asia. It detailed the forced incorporation of Malay Muslim areas into Siam, and revealed the gendered core of Thailand's modern legal system. It is among the first historical works to integrate thoroughly both the Malay Muslim south and gender into Thai history. Her articles include studies of sex and politics, transnational sexualities, comparative law, sodomy, the family, suffrage, intimate violence, rape and notions of liberty in Thailand.
Thailand, like several other nations near and far, is currently experiencing dramatic political and social polarization. I have written and been interviewed about the revolutionary cultural shift underway in Thailand. To learn more, please visit:
- "Thailand Protests at a Tipping Point: Insights from Tamara Loos,” The Diplomat (Nov. 17, 2020)
- BBC Interview: The Inquiry, “Why are Thai students risking jail to call for reform of the monarchy?” BBC World Service, 5 Nov. 2020.
- NPR Interview: David Greene, Morning Edition, NPR, 24 Oct. 2019.
- Thailand and Southeast Asian Studies
- Emotions and Social history
- Auto/Biography and history
- Travel writing
- Extreme sports
Bones around My Neck: The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).