Scholar Peter Koret dies at 60

Teacher and scholar of Thai and Lao history and literature Peter Koret passed away of brain cancer on 9 April in 2020, at Ramkhamhaeng Hospital in Bangkok. He was 60 years old.

Peter Koret (left) with Bandhit Aniya (right) at the Bangkok South Criminal Court before Bandit's hearing in February 2014

Koret was born in the US and received his BA in English Literature from Bard College in New York State. He also received a doctorate from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where his research focused on Southeast Asian Languages and Literature. His doctoral thesis, Whispered so softly it resounds through the forest, spoken so loudly it can hardly be heard: the art of parallelism in traditional Lao literature, explores the use of parallelism as an organizational device in the narrative structure of Lao literature.

He was a fluent speaker and reader of Thai, Lao, and Shan, and taught courses in Buddhism, Southeast Asian culture, and Thai language at the University of California Berkeley and the Arizona State University. He also taught at schools in Thailand, Laos, and the Shan State, including Dulwich International College in Phuket, now the British International School.

Koret was a close friend of author Bandhit Aniya, the two having met when Koret first came to Thailand as a member of the US Peace Corps. He was also Bandit’s guarantor when the writer was arrested and charged with lèse majesté. He posted bail for Bandhit and was required to attend all of Bandhit’s hearings, although he told Canadian reporter Myles Gough that he would have attended nonetheless.

He also wrote the preface to Bandhit’s autobiography, The Dream Under the Sun, which was published in 2014.

Koret is the author of The Man Who Accused the King of Killing a Fish: The Biography of Narin Phasit of Siam, 1874 – 1950. Published by Silkworm Books in 2012, the book is a biography of Narin Phasit, a little-known critique of the establishment during the reigns of King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok and the People’s Party government and a supporter of the restoration of the order of the bhikkuni, or the female monks. 

Koret’s publications also included the novel Stone Cat and the introduction to Mother’s Beloved: Stories from Laos, a collection of short stories by Lao author Outhine Bounyavong, translated into English, among other writing on religion and politics in Southeast Asia. He was also a collector and interpreter of Lao traditional palm leaf manuscripts.

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