The very latest REVIEWS.
From the publisher,
Douglas & McIntyre:
Paris, 1909: Adélie Tremier, a young widow suffering the final stages of tuberculosis, flees for French-occupied Indochina, through the lush forests of Laos, to seek out a fabled spring of immortality that might allow her to return to her nine-year-old son.
Laos, 1936: Pierre Lazarie, a young academic turned Saigon bureaucrat, is sent by Adélie’s son, now an Army captain, to find his longlost mother. Although his assigned quest fulfills Pierre’s fantasy to travel up the exotic Mekong, he is saddled with his colleague Henri LeDallic, an Indochina old-timer who would rather glory in his loutish past than hunt for ghosts in the jungle. Yet what this mismatched pair discovers forms the mysterious heart of Adam Lewis Schroeder’s brilliant and compelling new novel.
Bridging history from 1890s Aix-en-Provence to American involvement in 1950s Vietnam, In the Fabled East is a rich and sensual depiction of Southeast Asia, charting the loss of innocence of both individuals and the world at large. Echoing Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad, this is historical fiction written with wisdom and panache.
“A novel of profound intelligence and wit, deftly weaving history and myth, male and female, East and West, agony and splendour. In the Fabled East is a stunning book.”
--Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean.
“Fable, history and the lure of the story: all take their turn in this funny, profound, and stunningly intelligent book. In the Fabled East is a madcap adventure, a sly, gregarious novel that tempts us, passionately, into the invisible realms."
--Madeleine Thien, author of Certainty.
The Muddy Origins of
In the Fabled East
While on a 2003 reading tour of the BC interior with writers Steven Galloway, Nancy Lee and Laisha Rosnau, I had a sudden and vivid vision in Kamloops, while Steve's poor car was in the shop, of a European woman in hoop skirts stumbling around a muddy village of thatch huts somewhere in Asia. Why was she there? I had no idea.
But the next year my wife and I moved from Vancouver to Penticton BC, home of one of the world's great used bookstores, where I happened to buy a paperback translation of Wu Ch'eng-en's Monkey: Folk Novel of China. On page 14, the Monkey King announces to his subjects, "Tomorrow I shall go down the mountain, wander like a cloud to the corners of the sea, far away to the end of the world, till I learn how to be young forever and escape the doom of death." My phantasmal woman in hoop-skirts had clearly been far from home--had she travelled to the ends of the earth to be young forever and escape the doom of death? It seemed as likely a scenario as any.
Taken in and around Luang Prabang, Laos, in August 2007. "Videotape the truth/but videotape it slant," Emily Dickinson once said. The fabled village is in the next set of hills beyond those pointy distant ones.
Ban Houaykok by night
Main street of a Khamu village in Laos at seven o'clock in the evening. It really is that black.
Approaches to Mak Tong
The Khamu village Mak Tong served as the model, if anyplace did, for In the Fabled East's fabled village. There wasn't a spring of immortality in Mak Tong, though, so La and I carried in our own water in plastic bags. West of the Pak Ou.
Rainy days in Mak Tong
The rainy season in Khamu village Mak Tong, as well as in the Hmong village of the same name further up the hill. Playing the khaene.
The Muddy Origins of
In the Fabled East (cont.)
(The protagonist's Provençal birthplace of Toumbadou, incidentally, is based on the French village of Cotignac where my wife and I spent our honeymoon years and years ago.)
Here's a short essay that describes all of this in a bit more detail.
...may not be as wide-ranging (or long-winded) as my Empress of Asia pages but, hey, it's got lo-fi movies. Of centipedes! Thanks to Jessica Sullivan for the lovely jacket and text design.
Excerpt: The Prologue
The Fable of the
Spring of Immortality
as told by the Sadet.
Once a rich man was so miserly that he chose to live in the forest apart from other families. Leaving on a hunt, he told his son, “Watch over my jar while I am away, for it is our family’s wealth.” But the son fell ill with fever so that monkeys were able to enter the house and take great sport in rolling the precious jar out the door.
Because he was blustering and loud the rich man was a poor hunter and caught nothing, and so returned home in a rage, and was so angry when he discovered the jar stolen that he dragged his poor son into the forest and raised his knife. Because he was pure of heart the boy’s last words were not “I do not wish to die” but “I wish that no one would die.” Then his father left the little body unburned and unburied so that wild beasts would devour it. But instead the Spirit of the Water caused a spring to gush from the boy’s mouth.
That night the rich man’s relations, hurrying to invite him to a feast, took their rest beside the spring. They were surprised, for in all their years of travel they had never seen one in that place. They were no less surprised when they stumbled across the murdered boy as they made camp. They could no longer recognize him as their nephew, so they agreed that they would make no funeral but simply burn the little body in the morning.
They boiled water from the spring. They threw in their dried fish, and then the most surprising event of all occurred: live fishes leaped from the kettle! The water of the spring, the relatives suspected, was rife with spirits. They splashed water on the murdered boy and he sat up and through his mutilated lips described what his father had done.
The enraged travellers raced through the night to find the rich man. Hearing their cries, he ran out of his house—but because he was blustering and loud, he blundered into a tiger’s jaws, and afterward this tiger suffered incurable diarrhea.
Meanwhile the son discovered the jar where the monkeys had abandoned it, and with this recovered wealth he founded a village below the spring. Of course the rich man should have known that a family’s wealth is not its jars but its children.
Now if you're all keyed up to buy a copy