marcel barang


In English, Reading matters on 28/07/2013 at 8:55 pm


Today was Drizzle Sunday I’ve spent alternately decoding a ten thousand worder (‘The roti seller from Sri Lanka’) by the late Kanokphong Songsomphan for my end-of-year anthology and revisiting a few tales thanks to Ezra Kyrill Erker’s Bridge of Dreams, Asian Tales, a paperback book I received by EMS two days ago even though it bears a 2012 copyright – perhaps because its Bangkok publishing house, Orchid Press, had the book printed … in the USA. Go figure, as they say over there.

I say revisiting because I’d already read all but three of the fourteen short stories retained here and had even subbed some of them at the author’s request. Actually, in the course of months a couple of years back – just as Ezra went about brilliantly subbing my monthly contributions to the Bangkok Post –, it’s about three times that number of tales I had the pleasure to read with a pen.

Seeing some of the best of them finally making it into print is a pleasure too, even though the current selection wouldn’t have been my own. If, rereading ‘The underground’, I was gasping for air at the plight of two ‘eejits’ burying themselves alive in a Thai cave over twenty pages, I still had the same difficulty drudging along that ‘bridge of dreams’ with a group of anarchists fighting amnesia engineered by exactly whom I’d no idea but was being reminded of those silly zombie-dreadful fashionable these days that bore the sarong out of me.

Besides, I find that one brief sketch, ‘Return of the Panchen Lama’, which I hadn’t read before, is a puzzling and flat piece of ersatz journalese that, even though definitely in spirit at some intellectual level, sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise highly coherent collection whose versatility of plots and backgrounds and disparity of voices and treatments share the common ground of personal unhinging at Asian cultural edges. Wow, this is quite a sentence!

Unfortunately too close to the bone: the other thing all these stories have in common is superb language. We are dealing here with a superlative writer. Up to a point.

Ezra Erker is such a master at his trade that he tends to disregard good advice. It was instructive to me post facto to compare those stories I subbed for him with the published version: more often than not, my advice was ignored, tsk! Since the current publication is word perfect, I have no quarrel with the editor. It’s Ezra’s pigheadedness that’s at stake.

Take ‘The departure.’ The beginning is a nightmare for a normal English lit MA like hapless me.

A thirteen-year-old arrived at Manila International Airport escorted by her large family and three boys none of them knew. … The three boys, however, felt only the lingering contention between each of them and the devotion they had no vocabulary for, but which might have been love. They knew they intruded on these final family moments but followed from behind the group, fettered to the sight of Nena’s body while brandishing heavy eyes to impress each other with their own sincerity. … The family moved through the white terminal looking for the right check-in counter for Nena’s cart of luggage, and Nena led them wordlessly, holding herself with more maturity or simply and innocently yielding to an unfolding concatenation. She remained herself to an exaggeration that made the eighteen members of her family wonder if she did not exist at all, but was the apparition of a common dream.

Followed from behind? (Try following from before.) Brandishing heavy eyes? An unfolding concatenation? She remained herself to an exaggeration? I rest my case and aching head.

Fortunately, the best line is in the very last sentence, beyond the stories, in the bio snapshot:

‘Embers, a novel of Japan, is also [sic] forthcoming with Orchid Press.’

PS: I wish the fellow would sign himself Ezra Erker, or Ezra K Erker if he has to. Senile as I am, I keep reading his name as Ezra Killer Erker.


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