marcel barang

Another literary UFO

In English, Reading matters on 04/04/2010 at 4:15 pm


It landed in my mailbox on Thursday.

It’s the latest, ‘scientific’ novel by Win Lyovarin, an exceedingly clever writer of many artistic talents he mostly squanders by writing too much in too many directions and, belatedly, for a middle- to low-brow readership.

The cover – a lavishly prettified Möbius strip on an almost white, 010101 background – is striking. Striking too are the many pages of drawings, graphs, engravings, tables, etc., that go along pages and pages of half-baked ‘scientific’ explanations that run the gamut of I Ching, Tao and Zen all the way to the Big Bang, black holes, space-time continuum and the latest string theory – in other words, this Atthasutra or Octasutra book, in which Lao Tzu joins hands with Stephen Hawking and which is based on the perverse notion that the Ancients knew better than we know about life and the universe and still have a few things to teach us, is a hotchpotch of ancient Eastern and modern Western astronomical and metaphysical concepts and theories that masquerades as a novel.

There’s hardly any plot to it: a young Thai mathematics genius is called upon to solve the puzzle of an octahedron, an archaeological find in the middle of an unnamed Chinese desert by his would-be lady-love Tara who, on the Möbius band of romance, must be the flip side of his defunct but still beloved wife Maya. He has forty-eight hours to cerebrate before, for whatever reason is left unexplained, World War III breaks out and – briefed in heavy doses on the quaint notions of the Book of Changes, reminiscing about his hardy past and the wise and weird teachings of his mentor Prof Suzuki, and welcoming in his dreams the tremors of outer space and the palinodes of parallel worlds – cerebrate he does, and I guess we are spared world conflagration in the end.

Much of this is basically the same field as harrowed only last year by Fa Poonvoralak in his The quietest school in the world. But whereas Fa’s reach was even wider and he went at it in a poetic, dreamy, even jocular way, Win is his usual bookish schoolmaster going through a PowerPoint presentation that assumes that pupils are ignoramuses that must be clobbered with facts and figures until they gape transfixed. This is the same technique that spoiled his 1997 SEA Write Award-winning novel, Democracy, shaken and stirred, by crowding the plot with too many happenings to the point of implausibility.

As I said to begin with: too clever by half.


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