the big sky library of asian speculative fiction

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z

authors featured in the Big Sky Library



The Most Silent School in the World

Fa Poonvoralak


translated by Samila Wenin


Review by Peter Young in Big Sky #1 (2013).

While experimental fiction gets as fair a shout in Thailand as anywhere else in the world, as far as I can see (and, given that I don’t read Thai, maybe I can’t see far enough) it isn’t yet on the map for wildly imaginative speculative fiction, let alone SF, fantasy or slipstream. So when something category-defying and just downright unusual comes along it’s unexpected to say the least, particularly in that Silent School was also shortlisted for the 2009 S.E.A. Write Award. It’s the story of eight schoolchildren of mixed ages at a riverside school in rural Thailand; they turn up whenever they want, night or day, there are no teachers, they play games, not a great deal happens that’s different from one day to the next and they’re not being groomed for a life in society. That’s because in our plane of existence they’re not really children at all: they’re the eight Trigrams of Taoist cosmology, given English/Thai names like ‘Water Nam’, ‘Mountain Pukao’ and ‘Sky Fa’. They are then visited by eight more ‘echo children’ from the Moon who are all subtly different, then more children arrive from the rings of Saturn, the Oort Cloud, the Sun and other places in the solar system. They speculate if their school may in fact be some kind of spaceship. They’ve finally multiplied to sixty-four – the same number of pairings that make up the Hexagrams of the I Ching – and the physical dimensions of their school keep on growing, instantly adding more rooms as new children arrive. How they all interact may be meant to reflect the subtleties of the I Ching’s Hexagrams; although this seems to be the intent it was often difficult to figure out beyond the characters of the children/Trigrams themselves.

All the above is not a spoiler as it would have helped to know something of the structure of the book before beginning it. It’s also rather inconclusive, but then this story was not particularly written along the lines of a linear, modern Western text, with the analogy of the ‘Silent School’ probably meaning the life situations contained in the I Ching itself, and the physical school representing an expansion of an octagonal ba gua arrangement of Trigrams. This book is both perplexing and entertaining, and for someone who’s long been interested in the inner working of the I Ching it was also a rare and valuable find, regrettably one that I doubt will be showing up in many bookstores outside of Thailand.