While browsing at the bookstore at the Singapore Writers Festival this past weekend, I chanced upon this book located under the "Picture Book and Graphic Novel" section, a tiny table in the middle of the bookstore.
I was quite taken by the cover and began flipping through it just to get a look. Now, it's been years since I touched a book in Mandarin, but I reckon that if it's a picture book, my mediocre Mandarin would suffice. I was pleasantly suprised by the content. The theme seemed to be about loneliness. And that's not even a good translation. It's about looking for "不孤独" which would be "seeking escape from aloneness", I'm not the best translator, so bear with me.
I'd only flipped through half a dozen pages before it was almost time for the next panel discussion: "Not just child's play: Why picture books matter" and I hurried to the room.
Imagine my shock when the talk began in Mandarin! For a full minute I was wondering if I'd gone into the wrong room but was too embarrassed to stand up and walk out because it wouldn't be polite to do so. I'm glad I didn't. It was the correct talk. I must have missed the small print which indicated that the talk would be conducted in Mandarin.
And to my surprise, I found out that the author of this book was one of the three panelists! How cool was that? He talked a bit about how he came to write his book and that was a big factor when it came to me buying it (on impulse) after the talk was over.
Ah Guo told us that he did a series of water colours while on a residency in Korea. Every day, he'd just be inspired by the scenery and just drew and drew and drew.
When he came back to Singapore, he felt that it would be a pity if the paintings were not used for something. Fortunately enough, he was able to craft a story out of it. And what a story it was!
The book is essentially a charming tale about a boy who is seeking to escape from aloneness. He meets a penguin and together, they went on a quest for just that. As they journeyed on, they discovered many other things such as "eternity" (in a tree), "freedom" (in the sky), and "trust" (through a friend).
This really doesn't do justice to the book.
In any case, I thought this was a brilliant and poignant work of art. Reading it made me really calm and I wonder if this was the effect the author was going for. If you're feeling particularly anxious about life, or if your friend/family member is, this might just be the book for you.
I went home and showed the book to my sister and she loved it too. She felt that it was really meaningful and noted the interesting use of the hourglass to mark time.
It must be noted that the target audience the author was aiming for were adults. In the panel session, the author noted that many parents bought it to read to their kids because it was a picture book. But he get that "孤独" or "being alone" was a concept too abstract for kids.
The story provides much food for thought and one can read it over and again without getting bored of it. And even though the language was relatively simple, the writing has a grace and nuance that is unrivalled. I've not read a book quite like this and must thank the Singapore Writers Festival for introducing it to me.
You can order the book online at Lingzi Media's website or buy it from Kinokuniya at $18 a copy. It sold like hot cakes yesterday and I'm happy to report I snagged the very last copy! Hahaha.
Check out more of the author's works at www.leekowfong.com and I'll leave you with one of the pages that I absolutely adore: