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Nirvana's Children
Ranulfo
HarperTempest, 224 pages

Nirvana's Children
Ranulfo
Ranulfo was born on an island called Bohol in the Philippines. He lived in a coconut tree with his monkey friends. Against his will, he was taken to Australia to be civilised. This proved to be a failure so he was sent to a lunatic asylum. He spends his time staring at the wall and writing novels.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

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'"The whole system is simply for the rich who don't care about the poor or the environment. They'd sell the planet to the Martians if there was a buck in it."

"You blame the rich, then?"

"No, I blame Adults. They're so stupid & gutless that they let this system continue."'

Rarely have I come across a book that's as good as this one. Especially when it's a first novel. The story is told narrative style, and is loaded to the brim with raw, heartfelt emotions, punctuated with pristine perfect logic, if viewed from a teen perspective. The underlying theme is the loss of childhood innocence, and the shattering realisation of what the adult world is really about. The main character, and narrator, is a 15 year-old Filipino named Napoleon, living in the land down under; Australia. Like most kids of that age, Napoleon is in conflict with his parents, but unlike most, he runs away from home. He quickly discovers that life without money, on the streets and with no friends, is a lot harder than he'd imagined. Almost inevitably, his desperation for acceptance and the need to survive means that he joins a gang. However, this is no ordinary bunch of tearaways, but a group with a charismatic adult leader, known only as Blondie. A cross between Fagin and Peter Pan, Blondie's ultimate ambition is to lead a children's crusade, and wrest control of the world from the corrupt adults. Blondie, of course, is two pies short of a picnic, but his followers love him anyway. A few whisper that he might even be a legendary figure, called the Eternal Child.

Then Napoleon's troubled life takes another detour, resulting in him forming a relationship with a teen whore named Sammie. Despite her dire circumstances, she is the girl of his dreams, and before too long the pair are hopelessly in love. Complete with all the doubt and fragile passion that first love entails.

The author, Ranulfo, is himself a Filipino living in Australia, and has developed a rather surreal style of writing. Nirvana's Children abandons clearly defined chapters in favour of brief descriptive segments and small paragraphs. More often than not with enchanting, highly evocative titles; Son Of Dog, The Ghosts Of Luna Park, and Astro Girl's Lover being prime examples. All suggest a short story, and often that is what they are, but cleverly woven into the patchwork fabric of the whole. On its surface, the plot is simple, but the ideas explored within are complex and large as life. Ranulfo's skillful technique never gets bogged down with too much adult philosophising. Instead, he has his narrator present his arguments in relatively short, stream of consciousness style rants. While easy to understand, they provide much food for thought. Another plus is that this is a novel with no dud characters. Everyone who appears is there for a reason, and comes across as believable. Adult readers and older children may find it easy to condemn Napoleon for some of his immature decisions, until Ranulfo makes it impossible not to care about his rebel without a clue life, and the tragic result.

Nirvana's Children is the kind of book where what happens is less important than how that point is reached, and what is learned on the journey. One negative is the author's use of teen spelling, such as nite, sed and skool, plus Napoleon's incessant use of '&' instead of 'and.' But these are minor problems, and more than made up for by the inventiveness, charm and provocative nature of the plot. One example which has stayed with me, is a side story of someone Napoleon encounters on his travels. The Pigeon Lady is a middle-aged woman who he finds crying in the park, as pigeons flock around her feet. We learn that her son killed himself, by jumping off a roof, and she believes that his soul was reincarnated as a pigeon. The problem is, she cannot tell which one. So every day for the past 20 years, she has come to the park to feed them all, treating every bird as her lost child. There's also a lot of hope in what happens, plus scatter-gun blasts of teenage humour, and more subtle, observational witticisms.

Ranulfo's next work is said to be written entirely in cat language, and if this first effort is anything to go by, we should all start taking lessons.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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