Archive for the ‘Duanwad Pimwana’ Category

Arid Dreams

June 22, 2020

Arid Dreams is a selection of short stories by the Thai writer Duanwad Pimwana which has been compiled from four original collections (and one other, newer, story which is uncollected), the earliest of which was published in 1995., and translated by Mui Poopoksakul. Many of the stories are presented from the point of view of a male character – to the point where I had to double check that Pimwana was not, in fact, a man – demonstrating the sexist, misogynistic attitudes that Pimwana believes exist in Thai (and, of course, not only Thai) society. Others are more concerned with class, and the poverty, both material and of hope, endured by her characters. A few even offer a glimmer of light.

‘Men’s Rights’ is the most violent and uncompromising of the stories. In it the main character, Wasu, is convinced his wife is having an affair:

“One image played over and over in his mind: his young wife having sex with another man.”

He becomes determined “he must kill her,” in the end beating her savagely but leaving her alive. Unsurprisingly, she leaves, but this is not what he wants either, as he cannot work and look after their two children:

“His only option was to find his wife and drag her back, by the hair if he must.”

The story verges on the satirical at the end as Wasu and the man his wife has slept with head off together for drink, his act being simply revenge on Wasu for sleeping with a girl he ‘loved’ – though not any more:

“Moddang became a whore the moment she let you take her out.”

For the men in Pimwana’s stories women are often little more than objects. In the title story a Thai on holiday is attracted to a local woman, Jiew:

“I can’t say anything about her face, but her waist, buttocks, and hips, over which the flimsy sarong was pulled tight, were ample in all the right places.”

In the story, as the narrator gets to know Jiew, his attraction to her fades:

“…if all we wanted was to sleep with a woman, we should avoid learning too many details about her, or our lust would dissolve into other feelings.”

Many of Pimwana’s male characters, like the narrator here, though initially abrasive, eventually seem pathetic. Take, for example, the narrator of ‘Kanda’s Eyebrows’, whose obsession over his wife’s looks (“I find it unnerving how fast a woman’s looks change”) leads her to confess she only married him because he forced himself on her. This complete ignorance of a woman’s feelings is also seen in ‘Wood Children’ where a husband assumes his wife’s wood carving of children is a reaction to their inability to conceive (“there was no way he was going to let her distance herself anymore”). He ‘solves the problem’ by lending her the child of one of his workers, and then throws away her carving knife:

“He wasn’t a child misbehaving, but an adult fixing a problem.”

In fact, he is more like a child, throwing away what he does not like or understand rather than allowing his wife to develop independent ideas.

Not all the stories are about relationships between men and women; Pimwana also writes about the struggles of the working class. The best of these is ‘The Attendant’ about a lift attendant:

“A body cannot survive sitting in a confined are forever.”

Pimwana tells the story alongside one from the attendant’s past when he nursed a baby chick, eventually wondering, “What is the point of this chick’s existence?” as he might wonder about his own. In ‘Sandals’ the twelve-year-old Tongjai is travelling with her parents and little brother to harvest sugar cane, school now a distant dream. The story ends on what might be read as a note of hope when first her brother, and then Tongjai jump from the truck after seeing an advert with a woman by a pool in a bikini and flip-flops:

“In that moment, she was dreaming of the beach, the breaking waves, and she imagined her body was a sandal, floating adrift in the middle of the ocean.”

Hope, of a kind, also exists in ‘The Way of the Moon’ which features a father and a son. Given the darkness of some of the previous stories, the opening, where the father leads the son into the night, feels ominous, but is in fact a touching moment of bonding, particularly when the father tells him the beach is theirs:

“We don’t own it in that sense, Son; just that right now, in this moment, the beach belongs to us, that’s all.”

Arid Dreams feels like a perfect introduction to Pimwana’s work as well a still rare glimpse into Thai society at all its different levels. But its themes, of oppression and poverty, are sadly universal.