november 1–15, 2014

Books

  • William Goldman, The Princess Bride
  • Joanna Ruocco, Dan
  • Michael Allen Zell/Louviere & Vanessa, The Oblivion Atlas
  • Nell Zink, The Wallcreeper
  • Amina Cain, Creature

Films

  • The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner
  • เอวังฯ (So Be It), dir. Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Y/our Music, dir. Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every & David Reeve
  • Last Holiday, dir. Henry Cass
  • The Unknown Known, dir. Errol Morris
  • Whiplash, dir. Damien Chazelle
  • Hangmen Also Die!, dir. Fritz Lang

Exhibits

  • “Manit Sriwanichpoom: Bangkok In Technicolor,” Kathmandu Photo Gallery

tew bunnag, “curtain of rain”

tew bunnag, curtain of rainTew Bunnag
Curtain of Rain
(River Books, Bangkok, 2014)

There’s a notable paucity of contemporary Thai fiction in English. In part, this is because very little is translated from Thai to English; but it’s also due to there not being that much Thai fiction. Thailand isn’t a particularly bookish culture, despite considerable recent prodding which has led to an upswing in book fairs; at Book Expo 2014, I picked up a copy of this book, which might not be said to be, strictly speaking, a Thai book. Though its author is Thai, Curtain of Rain was written in English. Tew Bunnag comes from an old Thai family important enough to have its own Wikipedia page; he grew up in England and now divides his time between Thailand and Spain. This compromise is what makes the book available to its audience: were he writing in Thai, it’s unlikely that an English version would have appeared. But there’s a broader question with this book: who is it for?

A step back. One of the things that’s most interesting to me about living in Bangkok is how unbookish the city is, how it almost seems to resist narrative. While there are countless memoirs by Westerners in Bangkok – stretching back to the nineteenth century and Anna Leonowens’s fabrications – and a more recent vogue for Bangkok noirs, one has the feeling, surveying it all, that there’s a central narrative that goes unsaid here. Part of that is legal: lèse majesté laws make it impossible for almost anyone to say anything (let alone anything critical) about one of the central organizing structures of Thai society. Past that, one realizes, is another layer of opacity: Thai society is relatively small and centralized, organized around families, and there’s a strong urge not to step on any toes. One realizes quickly reading the news here that an enormous amount is left out of any account; over the official record, there’s an oral layer of discourse based, from necessity, on rumor.

Out of habit, it’s to fiction that I turn trying to understand what’s going on here – there are, it seems, all of the ingredients that should lead to great fiction. And it’s not here, or I can’t find it, and that’s confusing to me. Part of this is the question I started with, that of audience: Thai readership was historically small, and while it’s now potentially much greater, the appetite for the book has been superseded by appetites for newer forms. There’s a much wider readership outside of Thailand – and, I think, a world that would be receptive to different narratives coming from this country – and it’s presumably this audience for world fiction that Tew Bunnag’s book is meant to be read by. But this is, despite its presumably non-Thai audience, a very Thai book, wrapped up in the problems with Thai society.

Curtain of Rain has a familiar structure: two narratives which intertwine. One is that of a Thai writer, with excerpts from his writing, which creates a third narrative. The other is a British woman, his editor, who ends up in Bangkok; they have, predictably enough, a connection from the past. The book falls apart for me with the narrative of Clare, the British woman, who, while depicted in what is clearly meant to be realist manner, fails all criteria for believability. She is, almost upon arrival, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; the doctor memorably asks:

‘Is there any history of Alzheimer in the family?’

Disease is dishearteningly being used as narrative shortcut: her mind is going, so she needs, in the next two hundred pages, to neatly wrap up her life. Six months later she’s only lucid enough to wrap up the book. In between these two things, her editor, at her extremely vague request, flies her business class to Bangkok and puts her up at the Mandarin Oriental. It is possible that British publishing has grandly different economics than American publishing does, but this strains credibility. Further, she is returning to the city because of an incident in the 1960s, when she came, at his request, to stay with a photographer boyfriend, a romance that fell apart when he inadvertently reveals his preference for young boys, an incident that appears to bring her life to a halt entirely. None of this – I haven’t even described the nonsensical office politics at her publishing house – is at all believable.

It’s a shame because it casts doubt on the Thai half of the book, which I’m not nearly as qualified to judge. Many of the characters here appear overly familiar &ndash the poor girl from Isan, for instance, led astray in the big city and who gets AIDS awfully quickly. There is one section that shows some promise: the short narrative written by the Thai writer on his work on a radio show with a demagogue, who he finds abhorrent. The demagogue dies unexpectedly – despite his conservatism, he has a gay lover who murders him – the writer is tasked with writing an obituary. He writes two: one of the celebrated public man, the other laying bare his hidden private life. It’s clear which will be printed. This disparity between what goes on behind closed doors and what’s publicly reported is an apt one for contemporary Thailand, where press restrictions, both legal and otherwise, make much of the media appear nonsensical.

Curtain of Rain fails structurally: the British half undercuts the Thai half, and the conclusion – everything is connected! – seems laughable. Copyediting doesn’t do the book any favors: while Thai transliteration is famously lackadaisical, there’s no reason for the same book to have both “Taksin Shinawatra” and “Thaksin Shinawatra”, or “AIDS” and “Aids”. It is possible that serious editing could have saved this book: there might be a good novella in here waiting to be found, and a handful of decent short stories could be taken from it. As it stands, it doesn’t work. It’s frustrating: the theme of crossover between Thai society and the foreigners who permeate it could go somewhere. I would like to see that book. I haven’t.

october 16–31, 2014

Books

  • Janet Hobhouse, The Furies
  • Tew Bunnag, Curtain of Rain
  • Georges Perec, I Remember, trans. Philip Terry & David Bellos
  • Calvin Tompkins, Living Well Is the Best Revenge
  • Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives
  • Alex Kerr, Bangkok Found: Reflections on the City
  • Qiu Xiaolong, Death of a Red Heroine

Films

  • The Philadelphia Story, directed by George Cukor
  • L’écume des jours (Mood Indigo), dir. Michel Gondry
  • Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language 3D), dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  • The Journey, dir. Keng Guan Chiu
  • Ernest et Célestine, dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner
  • The Underneath, dir. Steven Soderbergh

Exhbits

  • “Tetragon,” Bridge Art Space

october 1–15, 2014

Books

  • Giorgio Bassani, The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, translated by Isabel Quigly
  • Barbara Comyns, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths
  • Barbara Comyns, The Vet’s Daughter
  • Walter Abish, Double Vision

Films

  • The Congress, dir. Ari Folman
  • Afternoon Delight, dir. Jill Soloway
  • Roar, dir. Noel Marshall
  • Im Staub der Sterne (In the Dust of the Stars), dir. Gottfried Kolditz

Exhibits

  • “Inson Wongsam: The Autonomous Spirit,” BACC
  • “Thai Charisma: Heritage + Creative Power,” BACC

september 16–30, 2014

Books

  • Flann O’Brien, The Hard Life
  • Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily

Films

  • Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), directed by Abbas Kiarostami
  • F for Fake, dir. Orson Welles
  • Spalding Gray: Terrors of Pleasure, dir. Thomas Schlamme
  • Nightmare Alley, dir. Edmund Goulding
  • The Hoax, dir. Lasse Hallström
  • Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, dir. Mark Lewis
  • Cane Toads: The Conquest, dir. Mark Lewis

Exhibits

  • “Harit Srikhao: Present: Red Dream & Black Rites,” Kathmandu Photo Gallery
  • “Transmission,” Jim Thompson Art Center
  • “Hà Mạnh Thắng: Fading Dreams – Disintegrating Realities,” Thavibu Gallery

september 1–15, 2014

Books

  • Axel Madsen, Silk Roads: The Asian Adventures of Clara and André Malraux
  • Carol Hollinger, Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
  • W. A. R. Wood, Consul in Paradise
  • Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius

Films

  • Fahrenheit 451, directed by François Truffaut
  • Schizopolis, dir. Steven Soderbergh
  • Sex, Lies, and Videotape, dir. Steven Soderbergh
  • Billy Liar, dir. John Schlesinger
  • 人再囧途之泰囧 (Lost in Thailand), dir. Xu Zheng

Exhibits

  • “Threshold,” Bridge Art Space
  • “Thanet Awsinsiri: Devi,” 100 Tonson Gallery
  • The Prasart Museum, Bangkok

august 16–31, 2014

Books

  • Tove Jansson, The True Deceiver, translated by Thomas Teal
  • Colm Toíbín, The Master
  • Vladimir Nabokov, The Defence
  • Lysandre C. Séraïdaris, King Bhumibol and the Thai Royal Family in Lausanne: Recollections of HM King Rama IX’s Rutor, trans. Jindarat Jumsai Na Ayudhya
  • George Orwell, Burmese Days

Films

  • Pretty Poison, dir. Noel Black

Exhibits

  • “Experimental Video Art Exhibition, Thai-European Friendship 2004–2014,” BACC
  • “MDIII: Fragility & Monumentality,” BACC
  • “Skyler Chen: Peach Blossom Valley,” Serindia Gallery
  • “Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch: Poperomia/Arin Rungjang: Golden Teardrop,” Siam Centre
  • “Krissadank Intasorn: The Remastered,” Number 1 Gallery
  • “Prawit Lumcharoen: Fake Work,” Number 1 Gallery
  • “Tanasan Kanakasem: Her,” Artery Post-Modern Gallery
  • “Elizabeth Preger: Here Are My Teeth: Black with Stars,” Kathmandu Photo Gallery
  • “Panya Vijinthanasarn/Andrew Stahl: Conversations: The Vivid Real,” Thavibu Gallery

august 1–15, 2014

Books

  • George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
  • Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration
  • George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Scent of India, trans. David Clive Price
  • Alex. McClenaghan, Six Years in Heaven: A True Story of Human Credulity and Unexampled Devotion, Embracing a Complete Expose Of the Abominable Practices and Monstrous Professions of George Jacob Schweinfurth, the False Christ, Whose Main Heaven Is Near Rockford, Illinois, with a Biographical Sketch of This Most Remarkable Religious Pretender of the Century
  • Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Films

  • Blue in the Face, directed by Wayne Wang
  • A King in New York, dir. Charles Chaplin
  • Thelma & Louise, dir. Ridley Scott

Exhibits

  • “Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings 1913–1915,” LACMA
  • “Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky,” LACMA
  • “John Altoon,” LACMA
  • “James Turrell: Ganzfeld,” LACMA
  • “Sam Durant: Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, D.C.,” LACMA

july 16–31, 2014

Books

  • Geoff Dyer, Paris Trance
  • George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Lucy R. Lippard, Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West
  • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, trans. J. M. Cohen
  • Ronald Johnson, Ark
  • Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

Films

  • Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, directed by Charles Barton

july 1–15, 2014

Books

  • Josef Albers, Interaction of Color
  • Paul M. Handley, The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej

Films

  • 紅の豚 (Porco Rosso), directed by Hayao Miyazaki
  • Microcosmos: Le peuple de l’herbe, dir. Claude Nuridsany & Marie Pérennou
  • Stories We Tell, dir. Sarah Polley
  • The Red Shoes, dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
  • God’s Country, dir. Louis Malle
  • 風立ちぬ (The Wind Rises), dir. Hayao Miyazaki
  • The African Queen, dir. John Huston
  • Los Angeles Plays Itself, dir. Thom Anderson

Exhibits

  • National Museum of Korea, Seoul
  • National Folk Museum of Korea, Seoul
  • “Korean Beauty: Two Kinds of Nature,” National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul
  • “Jesper Just: This Is a Landscape of Desire,” National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul
  • “Do Ho Suh: Home within Home within Home within Home within Home,” National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul