Bright – by Duanwad Pimwana

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It all started when Kampol, who was called by his nickname Boy, was abandoned by his parents and now lived off his neighborhood in a poor working class community in Thailand. Boy’s last name, Changsamran, means ‘bright’, but his situation was anything but. He was only 5 years old but grew prematurely wise going from one house to another for meals and shelter at night. Each chapter of the novella is like an episode of his many adventures and interactions with the community.

The best chapter to me is the one titled “I’m Not Just Me” where Boy grew a bit mature when he realized he had to put himself into his parents’ shoes, took care of himself and viewed things as if from their perspective.

Pimwana’s writing was charming and compassionate. The stories in the chapters are humorous and engaging, yet bittersweet at times. They will make you smile for all the pranks Boy and his little friends pulled, or bring you to tears for their poverty and their efforts to make some pocket money.

“I’m both Kampol and Kampol’s parents. You don’t have to do the dishes, Hia Chong. I’ll tell Kampol to do them for you.”

This novel has no plotline, hardly no character development, and the book ends going nowhere. I’m totally ok without the plotline, but it just felt off when you read chapter after chapter of the boy’s childhood activities and did not see any direction in the book.

This book reminded me of another boyhood adventurous book Ticket to Childhood (Cho Tôi Một Vé Đi Tuổi Thơ) by the Vietnamese author Nguyen Nhat Anh. Both books tell of coming of age stories of boys and their many childhood games. Both offer glimpses of local customs and cultures. But Nguyen’s novel has an interesting plotline and a clear message when the book ends, whereas Bright ends a bit off.

Duanwad Pimwana is the first female Thai author to be translated into English. Bright won the South East Asian Write Award in 2003 and Ticket to Childhood 2010.

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