Aug 25, 2015

A Child of the Northeast

by Kampoon Boontawee
translated by Susan Fulop Kepner

This book is about life in a small, poor village in nothern Thailand. The young boy Koon is its central character. His rural village is very poor and they have been facing years of drought. Nearby water sources have dried up and people have begun moving away from the village- they can no longer catch fish or grow rice. Koon's father teaches him how to find other things to eat- they hunt lizards and frogs, catch cicadas, crickets and gather ants' eggs. They also eat many kinds of small birds, owls, snakes, mongoose and other wildlife. Koon is a good-natured boy and usually obedient to his parents; he is always interested in learning how to prepare certain kinds of food and make necessary things- a new roof for their house, baskets, fishnets, etc. His close friend is more of a troublemaker and a braggart, providing strong contrast to Koon's character. When the drought gets particularly bad, Koon and his family travel to a river where they can catch and preserve fish, bringing back bounty to trade for rice and other goods. Through the story various dynamics in the village unfold- conflict between men who want to lead in different ways, disagreements between neighbors, the hasty marriage of a young couple and issues they work through during their first year together as man and wife. The constant poking fun and teasing, saving face and nursing pride, vying for attention- this mostly seems to be Koon's young friend but some of the grown men feel acutely the need to be seen important as well. I most admired Koon's mother, who worked hard without complaint and acted gracious to everyone, giving to those in need and rarely finding fault. His father was a constant source of wisdom and strength, knowing when to push on through difficulties and when to step back and let things go (as when a flood tore away their fishing nets). It is a quiet kind of story, one that doesn't seem to have much going on but is an intriguing portrayal of a different way of life.

Rating: 3/5        483 pages, 1994

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