Contemporary Literature · Translations

Bright

I really don’t know where I first heard of this book, but somehow I knew, when I saw it on the used book shelf at my local indie bookstore, that it was the first novel by a Thai woman to appear internationally in English translation. These are the pluses and minuses of being on #bookstagram. I knew that, which is awesome, but I don’t remember who to thank for the knowledge. I feel like I should slow down my scrolling. Anyways, needless to say, I bought it immediately.

Bright by Duanwad Pimwana

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This short novel opens with five-year-old Kampol being told to “wait” by a father who doesn’t come back. Without parents, Kampol is basically adopted by the families that live in his run-down apartment building community and throughout this book, we are given glimpses into their lives and Kampol’s experiences learning and growing up under those circumstances.

My goodness…after just the prologue I was enthralled by the words. So, credit both to Pimwana and the translator, Mui Poopoksakul, for that brilliance. It’s mesmerizing. And the structure of the novel, vignettes that build a picture of a life and a setting, only adds to that feeling. The sections are so short that you cannot help but want to read just one more. And each is so precise and descriptive, giving poignant snapshots of the little moments that make a life. There is no plot, per se, and yet Pimwana brings a deep soul to these moments that would normally be overlooked, so that doesn’t really matter. The reader experiences fads in children’s toys, neighborhood drama, flea markets, weddings, children’s “get rich quick” schemes, trips to the carnival and traveling performances, the particular loneliness of youth, and more. And since it’s all presented through the eyes of a child, it’s almost unnoticeable that, by the end, you’re gifted with such a rich portrayal of a culture. Pimwana shows the way communities interact, culture and traditions are observed, social and economic inequalities play out, and all with a quirky and folkish sort of vibe, showcasing the “good and bad” of local Thai culture in a way that just washes over you. The humanity of these characters and their lives is recognizable on every page.

The very first line of this novel is “The mundane has a hard time showing off its quiet allure.” Well, Pimwana proves that while it may be hard, it is totally possible. I know this is a short review for me, but don’t let that fool you. It’s just that I only have so many ways to say that this short novel completely charmed me.

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