Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Snippet: Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill’s lightly comic series following the exploits of Dr Siri Paiboun, the reluctant state coroner, is set in Laos in the mid-1970s, shortly after the communists come to power. In the following scene from Disco for the Departed, Nurse Dtui, his assistant, takes the opportunity to wind-up a small group of former royalist officers who have been send to the rural north-east of the country to be ‘re-programmed.’

‘I’m looking forward to seeing my first pog.’
‘Your first what?’
‘Pog. My ma used to tell me about them when I was little.’
Siri looked away so the policemen wouldn’t notice his smile.

‘Can’t say I’ve ever heard of them,’ the officer confessed. ‘What are they?’

‘You can’t be serious. You haven’t heard of a pog? I admit they’re rare, but up here in the north-east the animals are never penned up. They all roam around together, the chickens, the dogs, the goats, the pigs. With the animals being the way they are, there’s a fair amount of experimentation that goes on, if you know what I mean.’

Siri could no longer control his face. He got to his feet and walked over to the front steps to look at the full moon reflected hazily on the surface of the pond. It was a beautiful setting for such a dishonest political racket. He chuckled under his breath but made it sound like a cough. Dtui continued at her most convincing best.

‘… and here in Huaphan, probably due to the altitude, or, some say, the sulphur in the water, on occasions, the union of a randy male dog and a sow, produces …’

‘You cannot be serious.’

‘I swear on my brother’s life. I’ve seen the photos. They have the face of pig and the paws and tail of a dog. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of them.’

‘Yeah, I’ve heard of ‘em,’ said Officer Four.

‘You haven’t,’ said Officer Two.

‘Now that you mention it, I might have seen one on a farm just outside of Tha Reua. Didn’t know what it was, though. Odd-looking thing,’ recalled Officer One.

‘That’s right,’ said Dtui, ‘and up here they’re everywhere. If you see one around perhaps you could grab it for me. I’d love to take one back for my ma.’

What I like about the scene is that the officers are unsure of how to react and are unsure of what will make them look bigger fools – being ignorant of the existence of pogs or admitting that they know of their existence. Cotterill, I think, captures this balance between ego and worldly-wiseness and indecisiveness really well. My review of the book can be found here.

No comments: