Ngao Fan Khong Pheesuea – simple title, hard to translate: The Butterfly’s Reflected Dream or The Shadow of the Butterfly’s Dream or, perhaps best, The Butterfly Dream – by Uea Anchalee (pen name of Anchalee Ueakitprasert, a features writer in her forties) is a historical novel based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written in 14th century China by Luo Guanzhong about events of over a thousand years earlier, or rather it is a recreation of the life of that author, of what drew him to write that canonic work. As a historical novel, it mixes real and invented characters along with much narration of events and a steady leaking of pearls of popular wisdom. It does so without any particular flair or flash of the pen, and ends very weakly, if trendily, by moving the action to the present, the current author and a recent trip of hers to where the action once was, thus further dragging the story away from novel format into features writing.
The meaning of the title and content of the book hold in this hackneyed flight of fancy, a few lines before the end:
But Lao Zhue shook his head and said: ‘If you are able to understand that you are not Xuang Zhue but a butterfly dreaming it is Xuang Zhue and to further understand that you are not a butterfly but Xuang Zhue dreaming he is a butterfly, then I have nothing else to tell [sic] you.’
I can understand that Thai readers might want to read this book, dealing as it does with fascinating China and Sam Kok, the Thai version of the Three Kingdoms in its multifarious variations. But it’s a poor sidetrack version of, say, Ya-khorp’s masterly imaginings. If anything, because of its Chinese background, it reminds me more of some of So-phak Suwan’s swashbuckling yarns, without the panache. I can’t see it winning the SEA Write this year.
So The quietest school in the world is next.
As for ghostly Talei Namnom (The Milky Sea or Sea of Milk?), a friend has a friend who’s reading it – ‘It’s been published on demand, meaning few copies, you see.’ – and when the latter is through with it the former will ask him to pass it on to me. Saaatu!