This is Zach. Pound for pound he generates more excitement in Isan than any other news. The girls literally grow weak in the knees at his passing. Fortunately, Zach is working far out in the hinterlands in a primary school, where the adoration he receives is less of a potential minefield and allows the rest of us to occasionally feel noticed. Actually, it is wonderful to have Zach around because he draws so much attention that an old falang like myself can revert to his normal state of absolute anonymity. I am sure it is tiring for poor Zach, but he is a game trooper. Here he is about to eat a sizable number of peppers on a dare. Age does have its benefits...I love talking with Zach because he is furiously bright and his tastes in literature run counter to my own, so we get to tangle and try to qualify what the hell it is about a book we like-excellent work for an old brain like mine especially since he is so much smarter than I am I have to count on laying traps for him, like getting him sick on spicy food! Zach is translating, from the German, a biography of Heinrich Boll for a small publisher and he gave me this small sample during orientation. It is a compelling glimpse of a writer in a moment of duress:
The biographer is visiting Böll’s home after his death.
“I open the door to his place and go inside. It’s a small, cramped cellar that smells like mildew, and a half-light filters through a manky window, beyond which nothing is visible. Underneath the window is a small table with a slip of paper on it…
Then I stand at the table and pick up the paper. At the top right in Böll’s handwriting, there’s a date: 19th November 1943. Below that there is a letter which reads:
‘My dear mother, out of the miserable uprooting of this war, which I now see and feel and curse a thousand times every day, out of this cramped, sodden hole in the black Russian earth I send you all the love I have, you and father. Yes, this is only a measly scrap of paper, but still precious enough to be able to write to you and to be able to tell you that, even here, I’m thinking of you—here, amid so much suffering, I think of you and of how much you have had to suffer yourself, and I thank you in the deepest gratitude and love. Your son, Hein.’”
How lucky the children of Thailand are!