Saturday, April 30, 2005

No Point of Reference

I had not heard of Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap when I picked up the book at the local library. The author's name stood out from the crowd. If it had not been for the tiny blue elephant on the cover I would not have made the association to Asia. At any rate I was intrigued. As an outsider to Thai culture, I cannot judge the merits of Lapcharoensap's depiction of local characters and culture. A Thai reviewer at Amazon obviously has a problem with both.

"I notice there are no Thais raving about this book. Like Rattawut, I've spent some time state-side, so I know what the score is. But I dont think these reviewers have got a clue. Rattawut's characters are shallow, and the kind of thing any Beach-goer could've thought up. The device of the slippery pig as a metaphor of Thais escaping the farangs (in "farang")was just too crass to be true. Even on page one the mother wasn't having a conversation, she was making a soliloquy. OK for Shakespeare but not cool for a modern so-called realistic novel."

Knowing the score sometimes can come in the way of an otherwise enjoyable reading experience. Ryu Murakami's Coin Locker Babies to me was absolutely extra-ordinary - a book that I will remember for a long time. A Japanese reader would be able to judge if the Murakami's rendition of dystopia was fantastic enough to obviate the need of being in touch with reality of modern day Japan.

Amit Chaudhuri waxed eloquent on a wet floor mop and the strands of his mother's falling hair gathered by the domestic help's broom in Afternoon Raaga. I had to attribute that to the utter paucity of his imagination. He obviously had no real story to tell.

The narrator's mother bargaining with a Chinese girl for a pair of Armani sunglasses in the title story Sightseeing may well have been in the same league as Chaudhuri's mop and broom prop to create ambience for a Kolkata household only in this case I have no point of reference.

I completely enjoyed reading Lapcharoensap and look forward to reading more.

2 comments:

SeaSwallowMe said...

hey crossings ... very interesting.

have to chew on it a little bit, so i'll be back. but it's intriguing - does familiarity with the context dilute the experience. i'm going to give you the favorite phrase of the perennial fence-sitter - "it depends" :-P (but i promise i'll be back with a longer comment)

buckwaasur said...

i guess it is common across all cultures to go ga-ga over stuff that sounds exotic...it doesn't help that being even slightly knowledgeable about other cultures is socially accepted across many cultures as an indicator of being more refined...

i remember roger ebert giving 4 stars to some bollywood crap...and guess what his reasoning was...he found the song-and-dance sequences very heart-warming...apparently...*groan*