I like the idea of Enigma machine. It was used to decode encrypted messages during World War II. I also like the idea that during WWII some of the smartest people in Britain worked together at Bletchley Park to crack the German’s secret code.
I also like metaphors. Enigma machine. Bletchley Park. They deserve to be dusted off and brought out to serve the cause of literature.
In my writing, I have tried to create a cultural enigma machine. Over the course of 20 novels, most of them set in Asia or with Asian themes, I have worked to understand the encrypted codes used in Asia. I can’t say I’ve succeeded for Asia. But I have made an effort to crack some of the codes in Southeast Asia.
In The Corruptionist I start with the Thai phrase nam phuen yod diew or a drop of honey. “It doesn’t sound like a big deal. More like a sweet nursery rhyme. That judgment is a big mistake. A drop of honey foreshadows a tsunami of problems.”
The best fiction delivers for the price of a book a cultural Enigma machine to the reader. People are hungry to break the codes that shut them out. Readers of fiction set in Thailand, Laos, Gaza or Istanbul want a Bletchley Park expert to help them break the secret code. They want to know what the communications between people in those cultures means, what are their true intentions and motivations.
Colin, Matt and Barbara do an excellent job of this decoding in their series. That is reason enough to make their books worth your picking up next time you are at the bookstore. Think of this joint blog as a Bletchley Park group of decoders.
The main thing about the WWII Enigma project was that it had to be kept up wraps. As soon as the German discovered the English had figured out what the enemy was saying, that meant they knew their plans, and movements, the shroud of secrecy would have been eliminated. Readers love mysteries and discovering the elements that comprise a mystery. It’s not so much secret information but complex, buried information that is accessible only with considerable time patience and effort. When you scale up to universal constructs of the human condition from these starting points, you start to appreciate an irreducible complexity — a wall that stands between us and what we can know. I am trying to find, through my novels, a passage way through that wall. A place of escape.
Next time you are in the bookstore and gaze on the rows of books, think of fleets selling under cover of darkness. Target England. Or any target you wish to choose. But once you’ve chosen the target of your interest and desires, look for the book that will guide you through the codes, a book written for those who want to know what under the cover of a history, culture and language can lift the fog masking intentions and motives.
What marks a writer who endures is the ability to communicate from behind the lines. That’s why intelligent people continue to read books. It is the best Enigma machine ever invented when in the right hands, and when the medium degenerates into the babble of surfaces then such books add to the fog.
That’s what I do.
And why I do it.
Bangkok is my Bletchley Park.