Early this year I received a copy of Peter Whittlesey and Baythong Sayouvin Wittlesey’s new book Sinxay: Renaissance of a Lao-Thai Epic Hero, which they self-published late in 2015 after years of hard work. At its heart is an English retelling of a fascinating and complex Southeast Asian Buddhist narrative (one usually understood to be a jātaka tale), complemented by discussions of the story’s meaning and context, and lavishly illustrated.
The book is an impressive achievement. The translation is delightful, and it really brings the story of Sinxay to life, making it available to a wide audience. Although not an academic book, the authors’ careful discussion of the Buddhist framing of the text and its literary, artistic and cultural impact results in a book of real interest to scholars and students as well to the general reader. The passion that the husband-and-wife team have for this classic of Lao literature shines through on every page.
One of the most striking things about this volume is the images. They are everywhere! The retelling of the story itself benefits from a variety of illustrations, and each of the four commentarial chapters makes use of photographs and other visual aids. There is a wonderful mixture: photographs show us everything from temples to lampposts that portray the heroes and their adventures, while specially commissioned illustrations, including gorgeous maps of the landscape of the story, are vivid and enchanting. It is such a visual feast.
I am so delighted to see this book appear after so many years of dedicated work. I hope that it will succeed in its aim of bringing the story of Sinxay to a new readership. It certainly deserves the attention of anybody interested in the literature, culture and religion of Southeast Asia. You can find out more, or buy the book, from the Sinxay website.