This is the story of a young man who took as his wife a widow who was slightly deranged. (The story would probably have ended there had the widow not been his father’s wife.) And as the affair happened to take place in a small community, it grew into a major scandal which shook the morals of nearly everyone in the village and set one and all gossiping and passing judgment on the basis of whatever opinion each had formed about this abnormal relationship.
Rumor had it that, less than a month after his father died Fak had taken his stepmother as his wife. Some went so far as to claim that the two of them had cuckolded Old Foo even before his body had been laid to rest in his coffin.
This extract from the beginning of the Prologue is a good summary of the premise of this novel. It is a relationship considered scandalous and provokes the very mean treatment dealt out in the narrow-minded world of a village. The judgement of the title is that of the kangaroo court of public opinion. “The Widow Somsong” turns out to be a slightly mentally retarded Mrs Robinson to the weak but good Pak, who is like a leaf blown around by those around him. Korbjitti is a great writer and brilliantly captures the claustrophobic dictatorship of the commons. In the person of the villagers he is so cruel to his protagonist that I felt almost physical pain for him.
Many thanks to my friend Por for introducing me to this powerful book.
Chart Korbjitti: The Judgment, translated from the Thai by Phongdeit Jiangphatthana-Kit & Marcel Barang, Howling Books, Nakhon Rachasima, 2007, ISBN 974-91491-5-7
(First published in Thai 1981).
If you would like a longer but lighter and more pleasant read from Thailand, try:
Four Reigns = สี่แผ่นดิน (Si Phaendin) by Kukrit Pramoj
Former Prime Minister Pramoj wrote this historical novel much loved by the Thais. It follows the lives of Phloi (who became a role model for Thai women) and her family over the reigns of Kings Rama V to VIII (unfortunately, including nothing about the mysterious and controversial death of the latter). It follows how Thais adapted, sometimes with bewilderment, to the extremely rapid changes that modernisation brought during this period.
It was a truly wondrous grimace which gleamed at that moment in the circular aperture in the rose window. After all the pentagonal, hexagonal and irregular forms which had followed one another at that window without fulfilling that ideal of grotesqueness which had been foreseen by the excited imaginations by the orgy, nothing more was needed to obtain their suffrage than the grandiose grimace which had just dazzled those gathered there.
Called The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English, although the French title is more appropriate, this is an über-famous historical novel whose hero, or anti-hero, Quasimodo was adopted by the French as a sort of national symbol. But the novel has a second, or maybe first, hero – the magnificent gothic cathedral itself (hence the title in French). You learn a great deal about its eventful history along the way.
This beauty-and-the-beast story is probably too famous to need summarising here. It is wonderfully atmospheric and evocative of its turbulent age. For a story set in a church it seems very anti-clerical, at least the evil archdeacon is… well, very evil, but Hugo shows us great understanding of where he (and the other characters) is coming from. It is surely one of the greatest historical romances ever written. Hugo himself represents a vital turning-point in the history of the novel.
Quasimodo is a sort of living gargoyle, one of those medieval fantasies from the heights of the gothic cathedrals sprung to life. Despite his grotesque form and hopeless quest, his thoughts seemingly twisted like his body, Hugo has immense sympathy for him, so so do we. It’s impossible not to admire how he flies around his shadowy ream like a gibbon in the forest.
Sometimes Hugo gets carried away with his excursions into the history of Notre Dame and medieval Paris so that parts turn almost into essays. You might like to skim over these slow parts, perhaps to come back to them. But Hugo was like an early conservationist or preservationist in his passion for Paris’ heritage and the need to cherish it. And in this passionate work he has added another intricately incised column into French civilisation.
HUGO, Victor (1802 – 1885), Notre-Dame de Paris 1482, Paris, Gallimard, 1966, 1985, ISBN 2-07-036549-2 (originally published 1831)