Book review: Thai author Veeraporn Nitiprapha's spellbinding family saga

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Memories Of The Memories Of The Black Rose Cat

By Veeraporn Nitiprapha, translated by Kong Rithdee Fiction/River Books/Paperback/330 pages/$23.54/Buy here 4 out of 5

Veeraporn Nitiprapha's multigenerational saga of a Chinese immigrant family in Thailand unfolds like a rose in bloom - its intricate layers reveal themselves in their own time, overlapping with quiet intent.

Memories Of The Memories Of The Black Rose Cat was well-received in Thailand when it was first published. It went on to win the prestigious South-east Asian Writers Award in 2018, and is now available to English readers in an excellent translation by Kong Rithdee.

The story begins in the early decades of the 20th century, when Great-Grandpa Tong arrives in Siam from Guangdong, China, to help his uncle in the rice trade. He marries Great-Grandma Sangiem, a palace cook, and they have five children together.

The narrator tells of the family's trials and tribulations against the turbulent backdrop of the Siamese Revolution of 1932, World War II, various rebellions and coups, and the Vietnam War.

Memory is a slippery, untrustworthy thing, and memories of memories even more so. Events of the past are loosely framed by Dao, a mysterious boy in an old house who contemplates the memories of Grandma Sri, one of Tong's daughters.

Another shadowy figure is the titular Black Rose Cat, partly named for "the twirl of overlapping patterns on its back, cascading from jet black to the shade of glowing particles of sand, each hue seeping into one another as if painted by watercolours".

This is a fitting analogy for the structure of the book, whose chapters - ringed with foreshadowings - meld like ripples of rain in water.

Memories Of The Memories Of The Black Rose Cat deals in familiar tropes, lending itself easily to comparisons with the work of Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with its touch of magical realism, and the Chinese classic Dream Of The Red Chamber, another saga about a family and its declining fortunes.

With so many coincidences and tragic twists, there is also a whiff of the lakorn, the Thai television soap opera. Veeraporn sidesteps many of that genre's melodra- matic histrionics while - as in her earlier novel The Blind Earthworm In The Labyrinth (2018) - exploiting its ...

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