14 January 2007

Utopia: Nowhere Or Now Here? ยูโทเปียในซอกเล็บ

Utopia under the Nail (or Utopia nai sok leb in Thai) is a collection of eleven short stories by a relatively new author, Mud Sudphathai. It might strike someone as weird to write its review roughly almost three years after the book was published. But I just got the book yesterday when I had a chance to go to the TBT (Thailand Book Tower). The other book I bought was Lu Xun's The Real Story of Ah Q. (I haven't read this one yet but will write a review soon after reading it, I promise.)

I feel that Utopia is relatively less known. I was not sure whether it entered the SEA Write competition, but I was quite sure that it's not short-listed. This fact alone says as much: it's been underrated and suffered the plight of a good book that should've been appreciated more. This is the reason why I'm here writing its review and will do everything I can to make people spot this book again. (Well, at least it's what I hope ...)

The ten short stories are mainly about people living in the city, their intersecting fates and consequences. Compared to Pravda Yoon's Probability (Kwam na ja pen), which I think had inspired this work quite a lot, Utopia, though less sharp or powerfully concise, is much more readable and the author's messages seem to get across fine.

Some stories in this collection deal with alienation in the city and how urbanites find it impossible to communicate or to reach out. Some deal with the issue of capitalist competition that turns Bangkok into a dog-eats-dog society, where people are left with not much choice but to vie against each other in a rather heartless fashion. Owing to these, some urbanites face tragic ends as in 'Ice Flakes in the Fridge' ('Kled nam khaeng nai tu yen'). Some choose to look at it from a brighter perspective, as in 'The Green Miracle' ('Patiharn see kheaw'), one of my favourite stories in this collection.

On my first reading last night, I had no difficulty comparing this to Chakapan Kangwal's collection of short stories A Traveller's Journey to a Room under the Staircase (Nak Dern Thang Su Hong Kep Khong Tai Bandai), which deals with the similar conflict between ruthless capitalist society and the conflict between traditional humanist values. This book was short-listed in the SEA Write Award competition, so I wouldn't see why Utopia was not likewise selected.

Comparing between the two, I find Utopia more optimistic as it strikes a lighter note, giving us hope and kindling our nostalgia. Of course, it does frankly portray the underside of urban lifestyle (greediness, shallowness, and all such stuff) but it also shows that we cannot easily escape this. So here's the choice: keep dreaming of another utopia or make this hell a proper utopia. The second choice is of course harder to swallow, but it may turn out to be more pragmatic than the first one, or at least this is what the author thinks. I, however, need to have some more time to reflect upon this before subscribing to it, as right now my urban world is not at all that bad. Or maybe I'm just too middle-class to notice all this ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. Great to see the insightful comments about this book. I'm interested in reading this book, but I am illiterate in Thai language. Do you think there are some ways for me to read this book in English? Cheers!