The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by Veeraporn Nitiprapha (River Books)

Once upon a time two sisters lived in a house of infidelity and bitter silence. Chalika, the oldest, could remember when the house was filled with the noises of daily living but her sister, Chareeya, was born into quietness and only knew a world of sound when she went outdoors. In this loveless home, the two sisters depended on each other for support and affection, but they differed in the other forms of solace that they turned to. Chalika escaped into novels while Chareeya took refuge in nature.

When the girls were still young, their father died and their mother soon followed him with the same spiteful possessiveness she’d bestowed on him when he was alive. Orphaned, the sisters were joined by their uncle, who broke the silence of their home by filling it with European classical music.

Long before this, while out walking with Chalika, Chareeya had seen a little boy, sitting all by himself. Pierced by his loneliness, she decided to take him home with her. When Chalika told her it was impossible to adopt the boy as if he were a stray dog, she forgot all about this solitary child. When she was older, Chareeya dove into the river that flowed past her home, certain she’d find an undiscovered city beneath its surface. That same boy saw her disappear, thought she was drowning, and came to her rescue. Although Chareeya was furious that he ruined her exploration, her uncle, in gratitude, welcomed Pran into the family and gave the boy a home.

The children all grew up searching for love: Chalika in romance novels, Pran in Chareeya, and Chareeya in a passing stranger who ran away with her.

Years later, in a nightclub, Pran saw a girl who looked familiar, one who recognized him immediately. Happily reunited with the man she thought of as her brother, Chareeya took him home to a refuge that she had made delightful with music and flowers. Enchanted, Pran fell back in love with the girl who only cared about men who didn’t love her.


Returning to his childhood home, Pran took comfort in Chalika’s affection, but his true passion refused to go away. Tied together but following separate pathways, Chalika, Chareeya, and Pran drifted toward unavoidable tragedy.

This novel carries the familiar conventions of fairy tales into the realm of myths and legends. With the languid, seductive pace of a tropical afternoon, its story is folded into intricate shapes, skillfully introducing characters who are given unforgettable life; describing flavorful meals that readers can taste while devouring the words that convey them; evoking the essence of grief with the truth, “Forgetting is hard, but in the end, anyone can forget.”

Veeraporn Nitiprapha’s style is subtle and lyrical, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez but steeped in a delicate sensibility that is completely Thai. Winner of the 2018 Southeast Asian Writers Award, her novel, in a graceful and seamless English translation, introduces Western readers to the gleaming radiance and magic realism of Thai literature at its best. ~Janet Brown