Competition: Literally Lost: 48
Sunday 13 September 1998
a) where is the action taking place?
b) who is the author?
Blackwell's Bookshops will give pounds 30 worth of booktokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.
`Hundreds of people were gathered in the grounds of the wat for the opening ceremony. The hushed members of the crowd were aware of magic in their midst. A pig had been slaughtered and its grinning head was prominently displayed, surrounded by coconuts, bananas, buffalo liver, blood jelly and cans of 7 Up. All those items, not forgetting the lao lao, or rice wine, costing what a Lao family might spend on a wedding, waited to be offered to the tookatah, or puppets, in a baci, the ceremony held to mark weddings, departures, or indeed any significant event in Lao life.
Souvanh untied the knot which restrained the spirits and, cradling them in his hands, lifted one, then another, then another of the dolls from their sleep. There were about 40 of them, their wooden faces polished to resemble porcelain, painted with flowing costumes in red, green, and gold. The old man looked stiff and emotional. When the dolls had been taken from the box, Souvanh dragged deeply on a cigarette and began to blow smoke across their faces, then took a mouthful of lao lao and sprayed it over them. He lit another cigarette with one of the tapers in his hands and placed it on the lip of one of the puppets.
Buddhist novices, heads shaved, listened intently as Souvanh spoke in long sentences, his voice rising and falling in waves of emotion, a voice in which to announce great things.
"Oh, after 25 years, we see you!" Wooden xylophones chimed in, cascading scales and cymbals, as the ensemble gained momentum, puffing and wheezing like a steam engine. Suddenly the old man began to weep, his conversation with the puppets breaking up into wretched, constricted phrases. But they were tears of relief, for the puppets had partaken of the lao lao and their phi, or spirit, was now good.'
Literally Lost 47: The book was Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn. The action took place in Kenya. The winner is Jane Nairne, London.
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