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The Understory

The Understory

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By Saneh Sangsuk
Translated by Mui Poopoksakul

A novel of man's relationship with nature, faith, and the vitality of storytelling, from celebrated Thai author Saneh Sangsuk.

Publication Date: March 19, 2024
Paperback: 9781646052752
eBook: 9781646052967


The lovable, yarnspinning monk Luang Paw Tien, now in his nineties, was the last person in his village to bear witness to the power and plenitude of the jungle before agrarian and then capitalist life took over his community. Now he entertains the children of his village nightly with tales from his younger years: his long pilgrimage to India, his mother’s dreams of a more stable life through agriculture, his proud huntsman father who resisted those dreams, and his love, who led him to pursue those dreams all over again.

Thoroughly entertaining and already beloved, Sangsuk’s first novel available in the U.S. is a celebration of the oral tradition of storytelling and that tradition's power to preserve (and embellish) cultural memory.


"This is a captivating and delightful work. A charming, engrossing, profound exploration of the transformative power of stories." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Sangsuk spins an evocative narrative of magic, storytelling, and the cost of economic progress in Thailand. ... What transpires is a moving folk story about a lost world where occultists could shape shift into animals and tiger-demons could take human form, which builds toward the tragedy that sets Paw Tien on his path of penance and monkhood. This is transfixing." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"There's no forgetting Sangsuk's The Understory—a masterfully told fable of humanity daring to claim the vaster wilderness, enlivened by Poopoksakul's thoughtful, nuanced translation." —Pitchaya Sudbanthad, author of Bangkok Wakes to Rain

Biographical Information

Saneh Sangsuk is an award-winning Thai author who wrote White Shadow (2001) and the short story "Venom" (2001). In 2008, he received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) Medal from the French Ministry of Culture for his remarkable contributions to literature. His works have been translated into seven different languages including English, German, French and Spanish. His book White Shadow is considered one of the best 20 novels in Thailand. Currently, he lives in Phetchaburi, Thailand.

Mui Poopoksakul is a lawyer-turned-translator with a special interest in contemporary Thai literature. She was awarded a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for her translation of Saneh Sangsuk’s The Understory. Mui’s other translations include three story collections: The Sad Part Was and Moving Parts, both by Prabda Yoon, and Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana. She is also the translator of Pimwana’s novel Bright and has contributed widely to literary journals since she began her translation career. A native of Bangkok who spent two decades in the U.S., she now lives in Berlin, Germany.