Laos: Sad but Beautiful

Apparently there is one book that has been translated to English. Lucky Mother’s Beloved – Stories from Laos by Outhine Bounyavong was not hard to get ahold of, which took me by surprise. It is a short read; 163 pages, and all the stories are in both English and Lao.

This book is special in other ways as well. The authors writing style is simple, at times he uses short sentences, but it is however not a work of simplicity. The stories in the book have one thing in common. Compassion. Laos has a strong Buddhist background, and the language and culture has had their setbacks during for example colonialism, when the French language and culture tried to take over.

Not too long ago children educated by monks was the norm. Even nowadays the educational system on the countryside lacks the means; sometimes as bad as no qualified teachers, no books, or no schools for that matter. It was extremely interesting to learn so much about Laos, sad, but interesting.

The stories themselves were heartbreaking at times. A young woman was so poor that no one would dance with her. “She sat on a bench next to the band and its loud music. She was the only girl still sitting because no man had offered her a garland.” Another story tells the tale of a shoe-mender, poor as well. A customer does not pick up his shoes. There is a valid reason, and compassion finds its way into the shoe-mender’s heart.

The values of tradition, and not giving in too easily to modernization and values of the west are also important themes. The stories are indeed short. Usually I do not care for short story collections, with stories so short I can read them in a matter of a few minutes, but in this case it did not bother me. In fact, I enjoyed the writing style of this collection as well.

“The wind of the dry season was blowing gently. The sun had set hours ago. Now there was nothing but twilight. She saw empty beer and Pepsi cans littering the front yard. There would be many more empty cans whose contents she could not afford to buy. At the same time, the number of birds would dwindle, one or two at a time, in the skies above these fields.” Sad but beautiful.

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