Book review: The Immolation

Any form of self-immolation always makes for a powerful visual image because the idea of setting our bodies on fire for most mere mortals sounds excruciating and painful, which inherently goes against our innate tendencies for self-preservation.

Based on this repulsive thought, one of my favorite Singaporean writers and local literary pioneer Goh Poh Seng centered his novel “The Immolation” on. (Click here for previous post about one of Goh’s poem)

Set during the Vietnam War, lead character Thanh witnessed a monk named Tran Kim who set himself on fire in protest against foreign intervention.

During which, Tran’s cryptic smile fascinated Thanh and inspired him, who was a foreign-educated student, to join in the counter-movement.

“It was an act of courage, an act of self-sacrifice to move the hearts of men, to open their eyes to the injustices that are being perpetrated,” said Tran’s superior monk. “Tran Kim’s self-immolation was therefore not an act of destruction but an act of construction, for he died for the sake of the people.”

I personally rate Goh’s works, which encompass a wide variety from poems to plays, very highly because they always have a dreamy, romantic and light undertone that feels almost like cruising through a beautiful dream with him.

This was certainly so with “The Immolation.”
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My favorite childhood author: Herge

With Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn” hitting the silver screen, it gave me another reason to pick up Herge’s comics once again to re-read for them for the umpteen time.

“You kind of can’t grow up in New Zealand without having Tintin become a really important part of your life,” said Peter Jackson, director for the new Tintin movie in a TIME magazine interview. This was certainly true for my childhood too.

Georges Remi, or more commonly known by his pen name Herge, (left) creator of the Tintin series and also one of Belgian’s most famous comic artists that captured the imagination of readers through ages.

Strictly speaking, Herge is not an author per se but rather a comic writer and illustrator. Yet his absolute brilliance and creativity still warrants his inclusion in my top childhood authors list. I remembered adoring the entire Tintin series for the kick ass adventures where the journalist cum detective would embark on his journey to exotic new places such as Congo, Egypt and even to the moon.

(Side note: Tintin traveled to Southeast Asia, with mention of Singapore and Jakarta in the book “Flight 714 to Sydney.”)

As a child, I had no clue wheresoever he and Snowy, his super cute but fiercely loyal dog, traveled to in most of his books because they are places that do not register on my young mind. But it is precisely this element of novelty that makes these books a total hit with children.

Yet little did my childhood self know that Herge, as most authors of his time, wrote books for children that were inundated with ideas reflecting popular thoughts back then but is deemed unpalatable for today’s taste.
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