Thursday, 31 March 2011
Orange 2011: The road to wanting (Law-Yone)
Another Orange longlister, and yet another country - this time we are in Burma and Thailand with Wendy Law-Yone's The road to Wanting.
The book opens in Wanting on the Chinese/Burmese border with an intriguing incident. A girl is trying to commit suicide, by hanging herself in a hotel. But as she is just about to commit the deed, she is interrupted, hearing that a Mr Jiang has committed suicide himself. Originally from Burma, the girl Na Ga has been abandoned by her American lover who has returned to the United States; he has sent her back to Burma with the care of Mr Jiang as her guide to her "home". But what is her home? The story becomes more complex; it transpires that Na Ga was uprooted at an early age from her home in Burma - sold, and moved between homes, eventually ending up as a companion to another child. After that, the political situation deteriorated and she was tricked into prostitution in Thailand. The prostitutes are deported to Burma after a police raid, and the rich American lover was her escape from that. But he doesn't exactly treat her with respect, and his abandonment means that she is merely back in the situation that she sought to escape.
The mysterious start combined with the gradual revealing of facts about Na Ga's past along with the telling of her story in the present made this a compelling read as I tried to piece together what had happened and willing her to get to a better situation in life. It's another tale that incorporates difficult and unpleasant issues, and they are not sentimentalised in anyway at all, so at times it is a gruelling read, but I did not find that that detracted from what I felt to be an excellent novel.
I'm going to stick my neck out and say that I think this is the best Orange 2011 Longlisted title that I've read so far this year (and I've now read 11 of them). It makes me keen to seek out the other two novels by Wendy Law-Yone to see how they compare. (Has anyone read either of her other books, or even this one?)
Many thanks to Fiona from Vintage at Random House for sending me this to read.