National Novel Writing Month is here, and at Little Laos on the Prairie, we wonder what will emerge among those of us who are taking up the challenge to write the Great Lao American Novel, if such a thing can be written.
For decades, people have sought to write the “Great American Novel” a novel that is distinctive for both extraordinary craft and themes. It is expected to be accurate and reflective of the time and spirit in the US when it’s written.
Our expectations for the Great Lao American Novel will similarly be quite high.
Such a novel would be written by an Lao American in a Lao American syle that is grounded by their knowledge of their state, its relation to the larger country as a whole, and where Lao have fit into all of this. The Great Lao American Novel will examine what passes for our culture and the perspective of the everyday Lao American citizen, rather than that of, say, the privileged elite or those too removed from our core experience. We think there will be elements of dual-regionalism. The work of someone with roots in Savannakhet living in Georgia is going to sound different from someone with roots in Vientiane writing from Virginia. And we’ll be richer and more vibrant for it.
Historically, the Great American Novel is supposed to be the American response to the national epic. The Lao national epic of the past has traditionally been considered Phra Lak Phra Lam, although other candidates have been suggested in the past. We might ask, what will the Lao American epic be?
At Little Laos on the Prairie, we encourage our writers to avoid the writing something that is either terribly boring, insipid, obvious or condescending like the film Crash. Avoid literary narcissism, and excessive literary pretense. Keep it readable, but let it have a stirring depth to it.
Should the Great Lao American Novel be a work of great realism, or can we employ magical realism? Does it have to be as massive as some phonebook from Norman Mailer or full of pop culture references? Can it include elements of a graphic novel like Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel? Can it include Kung Fu Zombies, or the Vanon in disguise? Should the Great Lao American novel be set in a particular decade or span generations like something from James Michener? Can our Great Lao American Novel be as funny as Ed Lin’s Waylaid, or do we have to make it somber and ponderous like The Killing Fields, complete with a European American protagonist so that mainstream and non-Asian audiences can connect with him?
We do hope any novel that emerges will embrace innovation, and try to extend the novel form. We don’t want it to some hackneyed Night of the 10,000 Sweltering Peonies Ruining My Papaya Salad In Autumn, though. Make it something that takes our breath away.
But what are your thoughts regarding how you might approach the Great Lao American Novel?