marcel barang

…and a bit of a fraud

In English, Reading matters on 30/07/2012 at 6:42 pm


As for the fraud, Rueang Lao Nai Loak Luang Ta (A tale in an illusory world) by Pichetsak Popayak, about 120 pages long, is a collection of folk tales masquerading as a novel.

Judging by his bibliography, the author is a poet (four collections in the last ten years) and a writer of short stories (one collection, published last year). The initial ‘declaration’ by a mysterious ‘editorial team’ (no publisher registered) states this is one of nine works commissioned to ‘writers from different sub-districts’. Indeed the book is ‘printed and distributed by the Sub-district Administration Organisation of Bagdai in Surin province’, right by the Cambodian border – congratulations to the Bagdai SAO, then, for making it to the SEA Write shortlist.

The author’s foreword starts with last year’s floods, due to 1) deforestation and 2) dam building, predicts more of the same and pleads that ‘One thing we must do because no one can do it for us for sure is to delve deep into the expanse of our hearts and keep watching … the flowering in there’.

Then comes the prelude entitled ‘Before it became a tale’, a five-page elegy of a young woman in bliss (‘Her laughter quivers like a bell of dew.’) making flower garlands for her beloved big brother. When we come to the tale, the young woman is dead at seventeen, bitten by a snake; her brother is mad with grief, swears vengeance and turns into a full-time snake hunter. ‘Blood must be washed with blood. Fangs must be washed [sic – fought] with fangs. I shall wash [sic – clear] the land of all snakes. Wherever I am there must be no snakes. Wherever snakes are there must be no I’ – oops! Let’s change this to ‘Wherever snakes are I’ll show no mercy.’ From then on the snakes will play the role of the cows in the other book.

Again, by mid-book the plot changes course and tone: as the snake hunter ‘delves into the expanse’ of the jungle to reach the swamp that is rumoured to be the capital of snakes, the tale turns into a discussion of the pros and cons of life in the jungle, encounters with dangerous animals (elephants and bears essentially) and stone monuments and the various myths and tales attached to them, with past and present blithely mixed. Having kept watching ‘the flowering in there’, the mad hunter has sobered up (and caught his death). ‘On the way in I’ve used madness as my compass. On the way back I’ll use mindfulness as my compass.’ In the last chapter, as our reformed hero ‘takes the downstream boat of a lotus petal’, the moral is, Life has saving graces. Not all snakes are in parliament: they are crawling within us. Look for the silver lining. Life springs eternal…

According to the SEA Write selection panel, this is (in the Bangkok Post’s translation) ‘a novel that shows the human heart full of love and vengeance which ultimately leads to the termination of karma’. Whoever wrote this nonsensical sentence should go back to temple school to learn about Buddhist concepts if not the difference between a novel and a tourist information pamphlet compendium of folkloric myths.

PS – 01/08/2012: I finally found on the net the text of the SEA Write selection committee vaunting the merits of each of the seven shortlisted novels (my being unable to type Thai is a definite handicap).

The sentence quoted by Kong Rithdee in the Bangkok Post is this:  “เรื่องเล่าในโลกลวงตา” เป็นนวนิยายที่แสดงให้เห็นถึงภาวะจิตใจของมนุษย์ซึ่งเต็มไปด้วยความรักและ ความแค้น จนนำไปสู่หนทางของการต้องไปตัดกรรม เพื่อให้กรรมนั้นสิ้นสุด

This sentence is far from clear, in fact duplicitous in its use of กรรม (fate, karma), ตัดกรรม, literally ‘put an end to karma’, actually meaning ‘ending one’s life’, whereas เพื่อให้กรรมนั้นสิ้นสุด literally means ‘for that karma to end’, which is tautological. It requires interpretation and mine, in plain English, is this:

[A tale in an illusory world] is a novel that shows man’s state of mind as full of love and resentment to the point of seeking his own demise in order to put an end to his karma.

This leaves me wondering who should go back to temple school. Let the chips fall as they may.

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