22 February 2009

Smile As They Bow

Books retain the impression of the place I first read them. The chunk of War & Peace surrounding the battle of Austerlitz, for instance, will always make me think of a giant boulder somewhere in northern New Mexico, during a camping trip with a boyfriend. The trip itself was ill-conceived, punctuated by my unreasoning terror of the dark and ended with three miles uphill in mud, but to be perched on that rock, in the sun, with Natasha dancing and Pierre Masoning and Andrei ephiphanizing in extremis? Bliss.

I read Nu Nu Yi's Smile As They Bow in its slim entirety in the Denver airport and on my flight from there to San Francisco. They'd overbooked the flight, of course, and I took the bribe ($200 flight voucher and dinner) to get bumped till later; I waited at the gate with a group who'd originally been on a still earlier flight that had been cancelled altogether--these folks were ten hours in, unwillingly, and full of the grimly upbeat camaraderie of shared misfortune. They were a fun bunch.

Smile As They Bow tells a story in a subsubculture of a subculture of a culture that I know little to nothing about. There's Burma, to start: I had a book about Burma when I was a kid, one that had belonged to my parents, not a Landmark book but a similar read-and-learn series--there were houses on stilts, I remember. There's that, and Beyond Rangoon in a high school history class, and an expat associate pastor we had for a while. Not much to go on. But the book's not even about Burma as a whole, and not even really about gay men in Burma; it's about a set of gay men in Burma called natkadaws, "spirit wives," who channel Buddhist/ancestor/hero spirits at festivals, for a price, hold elaborate parades, and generally get to tart it up as much as they want without anyone saying boo. Daisy Bond is the heroine of this piece, an aging queen worried about losing his influence over his thirty-years-younger lover/manager, whom Daisy bought from the boy's mother when the boy was sixteen. It's a strange, gritty, glittery little book, and a glance at a way of life I never knew existed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Muse at Highway Speeds by http://museathighwayspeeds.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.