15 August 2007

The Orange Girl ส้มสื่อรัก

First of all, I need to confess that I didn't plan to buy this little novel. When I went to Esplanade last week, I bought a couple of Buddhist guidebooks as gifts for my Mom and my colleague and found out that if I spent just a hundred baht more I would get a B50 voucher for my next purchase at B2S. Greedy as I was, I decided to buy this latest translation of Jostein Gaarder's novel without much hesitation.

I read his Sophie's World and was amazed at how original and refreshing his approach to philosophy was. I imagined him to be a kind, warm person. Of course he did come to Thailand and did come to Chula to give a talk. Sadly at that time very few people read him, but quite a handful of people that day was a glimmer of hope! Of course I managed to secure his autograph on my Sophie's World purchased at Asia Books but soon after that one of my lecturers borrowed it. There's no due date at the back so she probably wouldn't return it soon (especially considering the fact that she borrowed this about ten years ago!). Well, Gaarder, if you're out there somewhere, please take heed of my plea -- come back to Thailand again, especially to Chula, and give me your precious autograph once again. This time I'll make sure you sign on a hardback so that it's worth your journey. (Needless to say, last time it's just a paperback as I was broke being nothing but a poor nerd.)

Erm ... what was I going to talk about? The Orange Girl ... ส้มสื่อรัก -- that's the Thai name of this novel. I'd recommend this book for those of you who are NOT cynical, especially those of you who haven't read or been corrupt by Murakami or other contemporary writers setting out to make the worst of our living condition or making alienation a thing of beauty, aestheticizing it to the extent that those who want to be fashionable need to go out looking lonely and lost like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, either with a laptop in Starbucks or with a rucksack in Nepal or Tokyo. With Gaarder, you need to believe and have faith. I do love reading this book and it proved to be a good read during the long holiday where I was supposed to take my Mom out somewhere (as it's Mother's Day in Thailand).

The plot is classic: a young boy reading a memoir of his dead dad as part of his rite of passage to adulthood. Even though I found this pretty banal, Gaarder managed to turn banality into a narrative sublime, with food for thought scattered throughout the narrative.

For fear of spoiling, I'd better not linger on the main question of the whole narrative that the boy needs to answer his daddy. But it does make me think hard and Gaarder really touches upon the essence of Western philosophy and way of life here, especially in terms of desire, which is quite different from that of Buddhism. As opposed to Western metaphysics, Buddhism prefers us to cut down on desire as part of the process to Nirvana (i.e. the state of nothingness). Life on earth is part of Samsara that humans need to leave. Desire is the cause of pain and hence it should be eschewed. I personally have yet to decide on this crucial question, but one thing that I've come across is the fact that one needs experience to be who one is now (read my entry on The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Without life how can one appreciate Nirvana? Without suffering how can one appreciate the curb on desire? Without desire, how can one enjoy the state of sufficiency? Taking this line of thought, I think life is a 'transitory' stage whereby people need to go through with the main purpose of reflection and contemplation. Without life, one cannot have any experience to reflect or contemplate upon to gain access to the next stage.

Once again my book review has turned into something else, more monstrous and uncontrollable. How sublime!

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