Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
In the early 1860’s, Anna Leonowens went to Siam at the King’s invitation to teach his children and wives in English language and customs. She was an Englishwoman, a widow, the mother of two children, and an independent liberal thinker. King Monkut did not know how much influence she would eventually have on his country.
The English “Mem” soon became beloved by many of the King’s harem and children, including the crown prince. She not only taught them European scientific thinking, but also customs and opinions, especially about slavery. The King found her services useful as a secretary for him. The slaves and oppressed in Siam found her to be a sympathetic ear and would often try to rectify their situations.
This is the story of her five years in Siam with her son. It is not the romanticized version of the story found in the musical, The King and I. Yet the musical had kernals of truth in it. Mrs. Leonowens helped a number of slaves obtain their freedom. She saw others flogged and even executed. She watched as England and France acquired more and more political ground in Southeast Asia. Her influence on the crown prince eventually led to radical changes in Siam.
This is described as a mixture of truth and fiction, and is listed in with the non-fiction biographies in the library. There is a lot of description of the country of Siam and the politics of both Siam and the world in the 1860’s. When Landon focused on the people stories, she held my interest. When she would go into long descriptions of the politics or environment of the surroundings, I would soon tune out what I was reading. The history is interesting. The writing is average. Anna Leonowens stands out as a strong woman who would stand up to a King and the others who would try to push her down into “her place”.