Conceptually, this is one of the most unusual books I have ever read. We Bury the Landscape, by Kristine Ong Muslim, is a collection of 100 mini-stories based on works of visual art—paintings for the most part, but also drawings, and one photograph.
With the exception of William C. Tumley’s 1990 photograph of the environmental catastrophe that is the dried-up Aral Sea, all of the works of art are surrealist, at least in a loose sense. Dali, Ernst, and Magritte each have several works in the selection, as do more recent artists, such as Jacek Yerka and Jennifer Heffernan.
The pieces themselves reflect the surrealism of the selection. They are flights of the imagination, untrammelled by pedantic considerations of plausibility. In effect, they are more in the nature of prose poems, where the language is every bit as important as the content. They vary in tone from whimsical (Miro’s Tilled Field) to slightly cruel (Odilon Redon’s Cactus Man), to blackly tragic (Ernst’s Castor and Pollution) to downright bizarre (Yerka’s S.A.D.). Whatever the tone, however, they are always challenging and interesting.
This is a book that is best enjoyed by opening a page at random and reading whatever you find, then sipping randomly from another page. In other words, it is a book for dipping into, rather than for reading cover to cover. It would be absolutely delightful, in this regard, to have the painting reproduced in the book with the corresponding prose pieces, though the logistics and costs of doing so would have been forbidding. Nevertheless, while the author has compiled a catalogue of links to images of the paintings, their absence in the book impairs enjoyment of the apparent spontaneity of the pieces; however, I know such apparent spontaneity is achieved at the expense of hard work.
Despite this impediment, this is a book to savour and enjoy by a writer in the full flowering of her creative powers.
Colman O Criodain is a biologist by profession who has worked on nature conservations issues through most of his career. Currently he lives in France and works for World Wildlife Fund in Switzerland. However, he is also an inveterate reader with a fascination for literature, history and food. His regular blog is entitled “Reluctant Irishman.” His first novel, for young adults, will be published in 2013.
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of the flash fiction collection We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012), the forthcoming poetry collection Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012), and several chapbooks. Her short fiction and poetry appeared in many fine places, the likes of Contrary Magazine, Ellipsis, Existere, Hobart, Narrative Magazine, Southword, and Sou’wester. She is the poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. Her online home is http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com