If you live in South-East Asia, chances are you have some interesting and conflicting ideas about trash and what that word means. From the ever-present litter everywhere and the casual tossing of trash bags over bridges into rivers (and then complaining when they flood) to the almost thoughtless dismissal of those classes of humanity we deem below us, we could easily say that we find trash everywhere.
This makes it interesting then, that the last book in Fixi Novo’s set of South-East Asian anthologies is called Trash. The last book in the thematic triptych that began with Heat and Flesh, Trash is an interesting look at the people and cultures that make up this region and the curious commonality of the idea of trash that connects us all.
As in the previous books, Trash has stories that are outstanding as well as those that aren’t. However, unlike those books, there are many more diamonds in this heap of stories. Does this mean that trash forms so much of a connection with us that its pervasiveness actually leads to better writing about it?
The stories in this book, as mentioned, are for the most part very well written. Some, like Zedeck Siew’s Mrs Chandra’s War Against Dust, are bittersweet and have only a tenuous connection to trash. Others, like The Hunger Houses by Raymond G. Falgui, are chilling tales of demons and otherworldly beings. Falgui writes about urban human “trash”, squatters who live outside houses possessed by the ghosts of colonialists. His prose is terribly simple, evoking both an idea of the simplicity of these squatters and their hunger, and the dreadful plainness of the demonic compulsion from the other side. Exquisitely hair-raising.
Another bittersweet story of the unseen people on the periphery of our collective consciousness is Tilon Sagulu’s Bleeding Trash. Sagulu explores the relationship between a young man, himself, left abandoned like yesterday’s refuse but adopted by loving parents, and three children of illegal immigrants of Sabah. Poignant and thought-provoking, this story was well worth a second read.
Some other small treasures are Dipika Mukherjee’s Baby’s Breath, Ted Mahsun’s And The Heavens Your Canopy, and Panopticon, a sci-fi tale of rebirth and punishment by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo. Ocampo weaves an intricate narrative of a man who dies, only to find himself born again, disposed of by a vengeful ex-love, and doomed to repeat over and over. Ocampo’s world is vivid and technicoloured and terrifying. A brilliant read.
I enjoyed all the stories in Trash, even those that by virtue of just being set next to outstanding pieces paled in comparison. I have to say that I think that this is the best collection in the series.
Editors: Dean Francis Alfar & Marc de Faoite
Publisher: Fixi Novo, fiction