I’ve been carting around this novel since randomly plucking it from the shelves last December, found at a used book shop in Hobart, Tasmania.
The story by Khammaan Khonkhai is set in Thailand, and for me, the draw was its setting in a culture I knew little about. Piya, a newly trained teacher from the city, gets his first appointment at a rural school. From the start he is set as a bit of an outsider to both the urban life he left and the rural one he takes on.
But his ways find acceptance and his drive to teach better, engage the children in gardening, and challenge the local powers makes him a quiet folk hero.
He arrives to a school with a lackadaisical headmaster and a norm of rote teaching- his methods eventually subtly change all of his fellow teachers, just by his example. When asked a question by a student, rather than dictate an answer, he sets it up as a thinking activity:
“I am not going to tell you, I want you to think it out for yourselves. Importance has to do with the use it has for our lives. Think of it like this– if you could choose only one, and none of the others, which one would you chose? That would be the most important.” Piya was keen on the children thinking things out loud for themselves.
The arc of the story seems to build for 90% if the book- I took it to a park today determined to finish it!
It seemed all set up, and once set in motion the arc of the story moved so fast to be a bit of a let down. The character setup was no surprise but like the formula, you know who you are rooting for. There is the wise elder ‘Carn Khen (Obi Wan?), Duangdaw, the female interest, Mor Sombat, the easily manipulated pawn, ‘Sia Mangkorn, the evil power enemy, etc.
Is this familiar for the end of year?
it was long established tradition that once the examinations were over, so was the business of education. The aim of education was the passing of exams. When the exams were held, half the job was done, and when the results arrived it was complete. The responsibility of learning was over for the pupils, and for the teachers, that of teaching.
World wide, is school mode.
Piya keeps in mind what a mentor had said about teaching people, instead of books:
“To teach people means to teach them everything that will help them be better, have more knowledge, more ability, think better, and be more useful to themselves and to others. ‘To teach book’ means merely to instruct them what is in books, to have them remember what is written in them but be unable to put this knowledge into practice.”
The ideas here of a teacher doing so from his heart and spirit are more of what I got from the book from the challenges it plays out in power (the crowd mongering acts and throwing out fears of Communism).
So not brilliant but interesting, and now read. Check. 4 months to read one slim novel…..