FRIEZE by Cecile Pineda


Email this review


From the author of Face (American Book Award nominee in 1985) comes a small, impressionistic, and aesthetically precise second novel about the construction of the great shrine of Borobudur, in Java, in the ninth century A.D. Gopal is a stone carver who is pressed into the service of ""the new kings, the Sanjayas""--the Javanese leaders who, by tyrannically impressing all the labor and talent of their subjects into the raising of the great shrine, will leave behind only the completed monument itself--and the penury, exhaustion, and starvation of a vanished kingdom. Gopal himself labors on the project for 20 years, remembering all the while his beloved wife Maya, who was driven into madness when her first child--a girl--was taken from her and left to die. Maya remains the inspiration for much of the beauty Gopal captures in stone as he continues to sculpt, half ignoring the growing repression, turmoil, and famine around him. He ""inherits"" the wife of his good apprentice, Karto (Karto's family has no food for her), and it is she who comes to replace the aging Gopal's lost wife, Maya: when Gopal, having finished his great frieze, is blinded by the fanatic Sanjayas (""Because such perfection must not ever be repeated""), she serves as his ""eyes,"" enabling him to go on carving, in however limited a way. The novel advances in small, one-or two-page chapters, almost like the careful strokes of the stone carver's chisel, achieving its effect often by indirection. But the effect is indisputable, both in the book's harmony overall, and in its moments of terrible pathos--as in Maya's first grief, Gopal's blinding, or his inherited wife's forced abortion, due to her punishment for her having displeased the kings. Sometimes difficult, but expertly accomplished, and sustained movingly by the high metaphors of human desire and political cruelty.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0930324919
Publisher: Viking