Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recommended Reading: Naga Cities of the Mekong

Martin Stuart-Fox is one of the top authorities on Laos with over 40 years of involvement with the country starting in the 1960s with his work as an agricultural field officer and as a foreign correspondent. He's authored five other books on Laos and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

In 2006, he and photographer Steve Northup worked together to produce Naga Cities of the Mekong: A guide to the temples, legends and history of Laos. It does not disappoint, and I consider it among the most readable of his books to date for the average reader. Steve Northup has been a photographer for Time-Life.

This is a book that was greatly assisted by the Lao scholars Mayoury and Pheuiphanh Ngaosrivathana and the work of many other well-known names in the field of Lao studies including Grant Evans.

Stuart-Fox organizes the book by three cities: Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak. He provides an index of temples and further reading. The photographs and illustrations of buildings are well-done and diverse. Each city receives great attention regarding the legends and histories of their formation, and what these stories tell us about Lao society of the past.

I consider Naga Cities of the Mekong an exceptional reference work for writers who want to quickly get into an understanding of the names and roles of many of the legendary figures of the Lao. Stuart-Fox wastes no time helping to introduce readers to beings such as the first three ngeuak who ruled Luang Prabang, known as the Dark Lady, the White Lady and the Lady with Abundant Hair, as well as the ngeuak Elder Brother with a Golden Heart. It's still a little complicated to wrap your head around all of them, but overall, Naga Cities of the Mekong  is an excellent place to begin sorting it out.

The Enduring Sacred Landscape of the Naga helps to clarify and expand much of what's covered in Naga Cities of the Mekong even further and both have wonderful scholarship that make these books I'd recommend. Naga Cities of the Mekong is the more colorful of the two, and you can get a copy for between $15 to $20. 

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