marcel barang

Pigs and cows and goats and rabbits

In English, Reading matters on 08/08/2011 at 7:43 pm

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For once, the (grunge, red, yellow and predominantly grey) cover says it all.
Centred title: กระดูกของความลวง Kradook Khong Khwamluang (Bones of deception)
Bottom right: เรวัตร์ พันธุ์พิพัฒน์ Rewat Panpipat, SEA Write poet
Top headline: ‘Collected short stories without end’
Top left corner: Samnakphim Nai Duangjai (In the Heart Publisher)
Side strip: ‘Warning: These stories have no core or centre; they have only words, and time that puts them to the test, and fangs [sic]’
Altogether, a well-produced and impeccably edited paperback, with the added attraction of Phaisarn Theeraphong-wit’s highly stylized, symbolic illustrations.

‘SEA Write poet’: that Rewat Panpipat received the prize in 2004 for a collection of poems and competes for it again this year in short fiction is incidental. The operative word here is ‘poet’: his prose is distinctive and a pleasure to read precisely because of its poetry, its recurring imagery, the ‘climate’ it creates: the power of the pen lifts us at once off common reality.
Indeed, common reality is seldom Rewat’s starting point, judging from such story titles as ‘The rabbit in the moon’, ‘He rode away into a mirage’ or ‘The stone cow in the field’ or such stories as ‘Amnart’s moustache’ (‘When Amnart woke up one morning [his lustrous] moustache had vanished…’) or ‘The woman with the biggest yoni in town’, which records exactly that (and much else besides) or ‘The amazing recipe to cure baldness’.

‘Without end’: perhaps a reference to the productivity of this 45-year-old man whose talent transcends his lack of formal education; this is the third of his short story collections – and the second, เหมือนว่าเมื่อวานนี้, Muean Wa Muea Wannee (As if only yesterday), published in late 2008, also made it to the ‘long list’ of 20 contenders for the SEA Write this year.
But ‘without end’ also applies to some of his short stories which lack a satisfying resolution by relying on happenstance.
Take for instance the first story here, ‘Barn Khong Noo’ (My house/The little girl’s house): over a dozen pages, the restless wandering of a young girl through a maize field gradually introduces us to a dysfunctional family and to the horrid condition of the nubile girl, submitted to an ordeal never actually spelt out but easy enough to read between the lines, until a convenient ‘accidental’ fire destroys her house and sets her and her little brother fleeing, ‘aiming for the orient’. Thus does a subtly hinted at tragedy peter out on an easy joke: the girl in flight has enough presence of mind ‘to explain to the world at large that the reason why she had to flee from home was merely because her darling brother had wanted to eat quick-fried water spinach’.

As for the ‘warning’ on the cover, it only makes sense as the last lines of the last story in this volume, ‘Khiao Khong Kham’, a pun on the word ‘kham’, literally ‘Kham’s fangs’ (Kham being a pig) but also ‘the fangs of words’: a metaphoric story of pigs that may not fly yet but talk like you and me…
The talking power of animals and things of nature is a notion very much part of the author’s mental world, rich in childish lore.
That the stories ‘have no core’ is only true in the sense that, rather than revolving around one particular theme or idea, they are a continuous weaving of symbols, through metaphors, allegories and aphorisms, that work well only when they are understated.
In this respect, the overly didactic ‘The stone cow in the field’ (farmers are doomed) is atypical. Even the most titillating story here, ‘Saptamao’ (the name of a village), dealing with the sly snakes of sex, lays the writhing symbols on a bit thick, but is well paced and couldn’t have ended otherwise.
The title story, with its conventional litany over political, nay: universal corruption, is a bit of a bore, never mind the monkey-like tree climbing habit of the protagonist. This is one side of Rewat’s writings I don’t care much for: when, like Mon in ‘The rabbit in the moonlight’, it ‘only thinks and dreams of the old world that has vanished’.

For all that, even though he is no bard of modernity but rather its rueful detractor, Rewat’s writing techniques are remarkably diverse and up-to-date: from the prose poem of ‘The ancient river’ (‘I live here, in the olden heart, o mankind…’) to the four narratives of ‘He rode away into a mirage’; from the use of flashbacks to the juicy polyphony of ‘Goats on the southern front line’. And of course there is his flair for language and double-entendres, especially in characters’ names: Amnart’s moustache is also ‘the moustache of power’; the soiled girl in the maize field’s name is Buabarn, ‘blooming lotus’, lotus being a symbol of purity but ‘bloom’ closer here to ‘bloomers’ rather than to ‘blossom’; and so on.

In summary, a possible winner of the SEA Write Award, along with Anusorn Tipayanon and Jadet Kamjorndet. How about Fa Poonvoralak, then? Hold your horses: he’s next – and last – on my SEA Write or Wrong reading list.

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