The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

This dreamy romance and family saga (206 pages) was published in April of 2019 by River Books. The book takes you to modern Thailand. Melissa read The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

Veeraporn Nitiprapha, Kong Rithdee (translator)

The author describes this book as a ‘melodrama of shipwrecked romance.’ That’s a pretty strong sales pitch right here. But if you need more, how about this: This novel — winner of the Southeast Asian Writers Award for fiction — stitches together mythology, fantasy, folk stories, 19th-century-style coincidences, and the aforementioned love stories to break your heart and inspire your imagination.

It begins as the coming-of-age tale of two sisters — Chareeya and Chalika — in the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s in Bangkok. Although their experiences are at the heart of everything, this is one of those books that weaves stories within stories, branching out like a spiderweb of human experience.

It unspools in dreamy fashion through 27 interconnected vignettes. A sort of homage to Thai soap operas, the story features a love triangle, unrequited love, and orphans. There are secrets and betrayals and sorrow; one character literally dies of a broken heart.

But don’t sleep on author Veeraporn Nitiprapha’s sharp teeth. She says she was inspired to write this story by the 2010 military crackdown on political protestors. Struck by the contrast between the troubling violence and frivolous love stories playing out in the papers, she wrote this novel.

Political shenanigans take a backseat to the personal drama, but the characters are living through the uncertainty and dissatisfaction of their time. They’re disenfranchised, desperate for love and security, haunted by their histories, and unsettled by their present circumstances.

The prose is lush, and the scenes it describes are equally sensuous, infused with references to music and food that underscore what’s happening in the plot. Chareeya, the younger, more volatile sister, embodies vibrancy: Her apartment is packed with books, pillows, scarves, and color, with gauze curtains that shift in the breeze. She cooks elaborate meals with dishes from all over the world and tends a fragrant garden with plants that ‘not only grew above, under and next to one another, they also grew in one another’ with the smell of frangipani in the air, ‘despite there being no frangipani tree in the garden.’

The story follows Chareeya, Chalika, and their childhood friend Pran — and their neighbors, lovers, relatives, and acquaintances — through the twists and turns of everyday life. Their paths through the labyrinth seem almost inevitable, and we join them for the extraordinary experience.

Once, she took him along a squalid alley in Chinatown so she could beg an old, hostile Chinese grandmother to sell them peanut oil, and then onwards to buy egg noodles from a shophouse factory hidden so impregnably within a maze of nameless alleys that they had to walk through three houses belonging to people they didn’t know, then zigzag some more before reaching shuttered doors through which white clouds of steam billowed when opened and behind which a dozen muscular topless workers were violently flinging dough into long strips — an image that reminded Pran of Shaolin monks in a practice session. — Veeraporn Nitiprapha

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