10 March 2007

Chao Karaket เจ้าการะเกด

Chao Karaket, a novel by Dan-Aran Saengthong, is intense, lyrical, and thought-provoking. I read it all last night in one go. It comprises a number of tales told by an old monk about all sorts of things before entering his monkhood -- his pilgrimage to India, his childhood experiences, and his relationship with his wife Karaket.

Despite the name, the novel does not centre around this female character, but rather a mesmerising experience between the narrator and a tiger. (It reminds me of Thang Sua (The Tiger's Path) by Sila Komchai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, one of the most inscrutable films I've ever seen.) His relationship with this animal is not a pleasant one, as his parents were both killed by tigers. Therefore part of the reason why reading this book is such a riveting experience is because I wanted to know who would win in the end.

Tiger-fighting is a literary motif that should not only be taken at face value; it retains a symbolic dimension. One can't help but associate this motif with psychoanalysis, as the tiger can represent that dark part of the mind, the ID that people want to suppress. His relationship with Karaket suffers because of this experience with the tiger, leading a tragic end which, I believe, confounds quite a few readers' expectations.

In this narrative, not only the tiger but the whole jungle are the prime antagonists. I can't help but sympathise with the narrator and his wife who try to turn part of this jungle into a paddy field, an act of which can be construed as 'civilising the untamed'. The novel powerfully uses this motif as it somehow captures the mood of Thai peasants in face of the darker side of nature.

I think Dan-Aran Saengthong is a very interesting writer and surely has a promising literary career ahead of him. 'The Snake', his profound short story, has been translated into many languages and, I believe, is one of the best Thai short stories of the past decade.

I don't know how to best describe this distinct writer. Perhaps he can be regarded as Carl Jung's 'visionary artist' who is inspired by some indescribable force to write. What comes out from his mind is more like a vision. Some people may say that his work is rude and cruel, but isn't our life like that? Isn't our life full of dirty truths that we long to cover up in the name of civilisation? In this light, his work reveals the price we need to pay in order to be called 'civilised'.

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