THE PAINTED ALPHABET by Diana Darling

THE PAINTED ALPHABET

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Darling, an American sculptor and ten-year resident of Bali, debuts with a charming, sometimes exquisitely detailed novel based on a Balinese Hindu epic. Villager Siladri, dismayed by the hellishness of his era, leaves home in order to study with a holy man. He swaps babies with his brother, leaving his own son behind, and sets out for the mountains with his wife and niece Kusuma Sari. But Siladri's wife dies just before arrival; the baby is raised by two foster-mothers--a lioness and a doe; and Siladri himself becomes his teacher's spiritual heir. In the meantime, the monstrous Klinyar--conceived in a desecrated temple--finds her own foster-mother: Dayu Datu, a powerful witch. When Siladri and his family are threatened by Dayu Datu, Klinyar, and a lascivious ne'er-do-well, he and Kusuma Sari must question moral absolutes: Is it right to use violence and sorcery against their enemies? In maintaining their own purity can they redeem others? Reinforcing the timelessness of myth, Darling has taken the ancient plot and let the characters play out their Good vs. Evil destinies in the contemporary world: traditional ways coexist with tourists and cold beer; the distracted witch, seeking a professional environment, creates a crack house and a Soviet airport lounge. Throughout, Darling turns archetypes into appealing human characters; her Bali is seductive--full of love, fragrance, tinkling bells, evocative descriptions of weather, geography, and religious rites. Exemplary translation of mythic material into fiction attuned to contemporary taste.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin