“Book Review: Arid Dreams”
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana deposits you among the triumphs and struggles of working class that is at once foreign and familiar.
In this collection of thirteen stories by Duanwad Pimwana, money is sparse, the workday is long, and the sun relentless. Arid Dreams is far from a peaceful reverie, but rather an exacting look at the moments of joy and tragedy, of hope and desire, that can be found in the working class of Thailand.
Arid Dreams takes the reader across a series of themes and scenes with a no-nonsense style that carries you through each tale steadily and at the right speed. The language fits the subject. That is not to say it is by any means banal but rather that flowery language and experimentation would only detract from the immediacy of the stories’ events. Pimwana’s style, filtered through Mui Poopoksakul’s translation, echoes the clarity and familiarity the characters have with their surroundings, of a life that does not bear the frills and lace of the elite and/or privileged.
But at the same time, the stories read in a dreamy way—not because they are filled with the fantastic or with the surreal, but instead that each comes with an atmosphere of inevitability, that there is something driving your life, a routine that is at once inescapable and unsatisfactory. There is the sense that either one’s will is impotent, or it is so confused about what it really wants that it amounts to a stagnation or even regression.
“Who suffered more, a person who knew only the first half of a story or a person who knew only the last?”
The various characters are often unhappy because of issues like failed romances, collapsed ambitions, or parental demands. They know they don’t like where they are, but they also don’t know which path to take to improve. This, however, does not stop them from trying, to varying degrees of success.
But Pimwana’s stories are not without optimism and humor. The titular “Arid Dreams” brings the narrator a greater understanding of human connection, while “How a Lad Found His Uncle and Learned a Lesson” is a short tale redolent of the not-so-short Idiot by Dostoevsky. And, even through some dark moments, Pimwana’s characters exude a sense of life. They may hide from themselves, commit acts of violence, and be filled with regret, but they struggle onward.
“It’s so much easier for me to keep living life as a failure, letting each day go by—like a stray dog.”
Yet the message stands that the way to a better life is rarely concrete and clear. As the stories navigate themes of identity, delusion, lust, friendship, and unfulfilled desire we see that there is no single direction toward that thing or place one wishes for. Though it may be right ahead of us, our steps lead us in detours and roundabouts.
By the end, we get the sense that the arid dreams of the title encompass both the characters’ aspirations and the lives they inhabit day by day. The worlds in Pimwana’s stories are not desperate or dark but simply difficult. They are not devoid of hope, but rather they are real and complicated, places where the right thing to do is murky at best.
Publisher: Feminist Press
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