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Oubone-lat Papet: Au-delà du Mékong [Beyond the Mekong]

Oubone-lat Papet herself calls this a novel though it is clearly very autobiographical. She starts the novel off with an account of her move to France with her family, when she was a child but we gradually learn more about her story. Her mother had been in France and had got pregnant by a Frenchman. She returned home, alone and unwed. Obviously, an unmarried mother in Laos in those days was going to have difficulties and young Oubone was brought up by her grandparents, with her mother pretending to be her big sister. Her mother married (a Frenchman who was teaching French in Laos) and it was he that commented that Oubone treated his wife as though she were her mother rather than sister. At this point, the mother revealed the truth. Oubane then lived with her mother and stepfather and their children. When the communists took over, her step-father found his income drastically reduced and soon he was only one of two Frenchmen remaining in the country so the family then emigrated to France. Things did not work out, as he had difficulty finding suitable work, and the couple split, with the step-father remaining in Paris while the mother and children moved out.

It is not clear if these issues led to Oubone’s later problems. Her first problem came with her mixed sexuality. She managed to fall in love with a Laotian girl her own age but only after she had had a brief interest in a boy of her age. The affair with the girl was devastating and, when it ended, she had something of a breakdown and fell into a deep depression. She is committed to an asylum, where she is naturally unhappy Sometime after she comes out – the timing is not clear – she meets Sylvain, a lawyer. They have an affair and get married. Then her depression returns. They had talked about having children and she finally gets pregnant. At this point she again returns to the asylum. Sylvain persuades her to have an abortion, on the grounds that she is unable to look after the child and the drugs that she is taking could harm it. They later divorce. She will again get out and again return, this time for a long spell. She is helped by her occasional returns to Laos where she meets her family. However, she ends up with another tempestuous Lesbian affair, with Elise, with its on-again, off-again, often bitter but often passionate aspects. Indeed, the book ends with something of reconciliation between the two.

This is certainly not the first novel with the story of a woman with a history of depression and breakdowns and unsure of her sexual orientation, even if it is not necessarily what you would expect from a Laotian novel. It is certainly somewhat bitty, jumping around and unsure of its focus – is she happy in Laos? is she happy in France? – till she starts to focus on her mental health issues. Clearly, she has had a difficult time, perhaps unsure of where she fits in, either as regards her nationality and her sexual orientation. I suspect that it is unlikely that this book will be translated into English, given that it was published by a semi-vanity press in France, but, if you read French, it is not too difficult to get hold of.

Publishing history

First published 2008 by Manuscrit