marcel barang

A backpacker’s gift

In English on 31/07/2009 at 8:34 pm


I got lucky today: stopping by a second-hand bookshop (a hole in the new row of sales holes leading to the Phra Arthit pier), I found a 2006 Harper Perennial reissue of The Naked and the Dead. I’d been looking for that novel since Mailer died, to pay the man a last homage; even made a special trip to Kinokuniya at Siam Square, allegedly the biggest bookseller in the land. I read Les Nus et les Morts half a century ago and am curious to see whether I’ll feel the same enthusiasm for it this time around in the vernacular. I have this love–hate relationship with Mailer’s works – read three times Harlot’s Ghost and failed three times to go beyond a hundred pages of Ancient Evenings he must have been the only one to consider his masterpiece.

Being at the mercy of Bang Lamphoo backpackers for most of my reading material occasionally brings me such happy surprises. Actually, I was looking for DJM Cornwell’s latest spy story, A Most Wanted Man. Yes, I’m a fan of Le Carré’s. One can’t be a hundred percent highbrow.

I had been looking for that book too at Kinokuniya – in vain. A few days later, reading the Post, I found that it was a top sale at Asia Books. How come? One would have thought both chains would carry such a potential bestseller…

Anyway, I rushed to the local Asia Books outlet – sold out, they said, they’d order a copy for me and let me know by phone. That was ten days ago, which except for today’s brief outing I’ve spent in this here jail. (More on this presently.)

Mailer’s latest will add itself to almost a dozen English-language novels that await reading since I embarked on the triannual SEA Write chore: Philip Roth, William Golding, Murakami and a few others. Later, I’ll tackle Thai again: Win Lyovarin’s latest yarn (two volumes; already filmed) and back copies of the quarterly Chor Karrakeit, usually a font of passable to excellent short stories, raw material for Bangkok Post monthly ventures into local literature in the raw – except that a month from now they’ll want me to translate instead the first few pages of whichever novel clenches the SEA Write Award this year.

The Quietest School in the World I finished reading one hour ago. The last part is heavy going. The chapters get longer, their themes heavier (atomic fission versus atomic fusion, time curvature and the like) and variations on those themes more fanciful to the point of anything goes (“For me universe isn’t a noun but a verb”) and you have to deal with a total of sixty four characters, but it’s still great fun if you keep in the spirit of it and can laugh at a child dividing letters of the English alphabet according to their sex (odd males, even females) for his linguistic games.


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