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Opening Asia for Russia

13.09.2021 39 просмотров

When you get a work that is certified by publishers and a translator as a work of literature, known to almost every Thai, and even awarded the highest literary awards in Thailand and Southeast Asia, it seems to you that you have a rough idea of what awaits you. And, of course, your expectations as a reader will not meet reality. 


The domestic reading public is quite well aware of the literary works, both classical and recent, of the major Asian powers: Japan, China, Korea. A more advanced audience has an idea about the literature of Vietnam and Mongolia. Some kind of literary image of these states and the people inhabiting them has long been formed in our country, and therefore, when you come across a work that is certified by publishers and a translator as a work of literature, known to almost every Thai, and even awarded the highest literary prizes in Thailand and Southeast Asia, you seem to have a rough idea of what awaits you.

And, of course, your expectations as a reader will not correspond to reality. The St. Petersburg publishing house "Hyperion", which made a name for itself in the publications of classical and modern literature of Asian countries, several years ago published the book "Children of Isan" by a publicist-prose writer of northeastern ThailandKhamphun Bunthavi (1928-2003).

This work was published in the author's homeland forty-five years ago and tells about the life of the Thai peasants of the Ubon Rachathani province in the north-east of the country, the action takes place in the forties and fifties of the twentieth century. And we see this life through the eyes of a teenager - the ethnic Lao Kun, who, like other members of his community, is simply trying to survive: almost a third of the book is a description of the search, preparation and consumption of food...

Children of Isan.jpg

us Hecuba? Why do we need Thailand in the middle of the last century? Where is last year's snow and where are we?

Moreover, strictly speaking, this is not a novel in the sense in which we know this genre from the history of European and world literature. Yes, the book is a narrative of a novel volume (three hundred and twenty pages of the usual format). Yes, we have before us a fairly significant number of actors who form a kind of artistic microcosm. Yes, and if you wish, you can even see elements of the novel composition here: the plot (drought and the need to do something to save life), the climax (a trip to the river and all the accompanying adventures), the denouement (the return and the rains). However, to call the book a novel in the exact sense, I think it is impossible. The translator Yuri Boev, who introduced us to this book, recalls that Khamphun Bunthavidid not study Aristotle's (or anyone else's) Poetics at universities. The main provisions of the genre nature, traditional for the literature familiar to us, were not known to him, and if they later turned out to be known, they did not have a special influence on him. He was not guided by them when he published in the Thai periodicals of the fifties essays on the life of the inhabitants of Isan, which eventually compiled this book. That is, we do not have fictional stories about fictional people, but a completely realistic description of the life of Thai peasants in the mid-twentieth century, if you like, an encyclopedia of their life: how they arranged their life, how they communicated, how they celebrated holidays, how they spent their leisure time, how and what they ate, finally. The action takes place against the background of the effects of a severe drought, and the description of the preparation and consumption of food, and the rituals associated with it, as already noted above, makes up a significant part of the book. Although, the translator notes, it is not only the consequences of the drought. Thais have a cult of food, cooking and eating food organizes, as far as you can understand, the world of these people, this thing is structure-forming, this is part of their national myth, as far as you can understand. This is art for art's sake.

What usually lies at the basis of a major prose work in the system of ethical and aesthetic coordinates we are accustomed to? Conflict, struggle, and, as a rule, it is a struggle between good and evil, for a better present and future; the struggle of those whom we identify as "good" with those who, relatively speaking, are not so good. And the reader identifies with the main character, a fighter "for everything good against everything bad." And here, in the book "Children of Isan", we also sympathize with the hero: he will get out - he will not get out, he will succeed or not. But the hero (like his entourage) does not fight with anyone in particular. His struggle is a struggle for existence, a struggle "for" and not "against". Literature without conflict, society without conflict. What is so possible? It turns out yes. And rivalry, a manifestation, relatively speaking, of social competition, “human, too human”, we see only in Muay Thai competitions.

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For me, the description of these competitions is one of the most memorable fragments, and not only for the impressive details and overall drive of the scene. Imagine, in a society that is most concerned with survival, sports competitions are suddenly arranged - among both adults and children. A competition in combat discipline, which, however, has no practical significance (Thais live peacefully, no one rushes at a neighbor with fists), this is rivalry for the sake of rivalry, if you like, art for art's sake (we will use this formula again), which has no purely rational, economic, rationale, exit to the transcendent, as the philosopher once formulated it Alexander Sekatsky.  

And in this the civilization of Thailand, for all its peculiarities, is similar at the same time and on ancient Greece, and on the modern post-industrial world. Truly, a person who "writes about himself and about his time, writes for all people for all times", as Bernard Shaw" once formulated. In this sense (and not only in this) the book Khamphuna Bunthavi "Children of Isan" turns out to be very instructive. With the exoticism of this literature, with all the dissimilarity of Thailand eighty years ago, in the image of the author of this book, it turns out to be a mirror in which, if you look closely, you can examine yourself and your time, and understand something about yourself and about your era.< br>
Why literature exists in many ways.

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