June 15, 2007

Book review: โลกด้านที่หันหลังให้ดวงอาทิตย์

โลกด้านที่หันหลังให้ดวงอาทิตย์ (The Dark Side of the Earth), by วินทร์ เลียววาริณ (Win Lyovarin), is the third book in Win's life in a day series. It is preceded by หนึ่งวันเดียวกัน (translated into English as A Day in the Life) and วันแรกของวันที่เหลือ (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life).

These books are collections of "experimental short stories," so-called because they use a loose definition of the word "story." They are certainly short, rarely exceeding 2 pages per story, and sometimes containing only a few words at all. But the style is a mixture of verbal and visual storytelling, often with an emphasis on the latter. Win has a background in graphic design, and he employs his skills in this area to great effect. His experimental short stories are a unique brand of social criticism, which stand out for being both subtle and biting at the same time.

As the series name suggests, the life in a day books are windows into the thoughts and lives of ordinary people through their everyday experiences. Frequently funny, and just as often poignant, Win is great at putting a spin on things that forces the reader to stop and think--the intended message isn't always obvious.

One of my favorite stories in this third collection is ค่าครองชีพ (
Cost of Living), which shows a receipt from a supermarket on the left-hand page, and on the facing page, gives the internal dialogue of the shopper for each of the ten-or-so items on the list as she was deciding what to buy. She consistently opts for the smaller package or the cheaper brand, commenting on the need for frugality. The last item on the list is an anti-wrinkle cream that costs twice as much as the rest of the items combined, and to which the shopper's comment is ถูกจังเลย (What a bargain!). It cracked me up, and I immediately had my wife read that one. She didn't find it as amusing as I did, though. :)

This kind of commentary on society is necessary, in my mind. Sometimes Win's stories are a critique of consumerism in general, and the "short cut culture"--the desire to make it big, get rich quick, find your fortune--that is fast encompassing the globe. But I think the more general point is to suggest a new way to look at mundane, familiar things. This is one of the strong themes of this series--multifacetedness. No matter what we think we know, or know we think, there's always another side to things. And the title of the book suggests this--the title more literally translates as The Side of Earth that Faces Away From the Sun--thus, an uncovering of hidden things, things that we may want to keep hidden, but things that must inevitably come in the light and under scrutiny sooner or later. Any author who can present this sort of satire with such clever style is worth reading--and sharing--in my book.

In keeping with my last review, I will let the author's words speak for themselves through translation. Given the cruciality of the images to most stories, I'm somewhat limited in by format to which stories are easy to render effectively in English. But I've selected a story for which the illustration is a complement, rather than an integral part of the story. In บทเรียนจากลูกข่าง (Lesson From a Top), there is a picture of a top (the kind where you wrap a string around it and then pull the string to start the top spinning) laying on its side, with its string coiled by its side, one end snaking across to the right-hand page and encircling the brief text of the story:

I watched my eight-year old son playing with a top with his friends in the parking lot in front of the tenement.
I called for him to come. "You have to do your schoolwork."
"Can I play some more first?"
"Playing is not as important as studying..."
I looked at the top in his hand.
"We have to get an education. You have to learn that our lives are like a top. Education is the string. The top can't stand on its own without the string."
"But the top can't stand on its own for very long."
"So you have to continually learn new things."
"But in the end the top falls down anyway. Studying is a waste of time."
I raised my voice. "Stop playing this instant! Go home and do your homework! Go!"
I'll save my response to the story for the comments. Now who will have first crack?

1 comment:

  1. I think that the graphic is an interesting key to understanding the author’s intent. The son was playing with a top that could not stand on its own for very long. But for the top to stand on its own for any length of time, someone had to wind the string and pull it. That was the child’s play. When the child was forced to quit playing, the string lay coiled, no education took place and life was turned on its side. It has been my experience that children and even adults learn best and most when learning is a pleasurable part of life. Life like the top needs to be kept in balance; it is crucial to understand that play is a very important part of a child’s work.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it. I am interested to see what you have to say about it.