Review: The Music Child and the Mahjong Queen by Alfred A Yuson

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Alfred A Yuson’s The Music Child was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize at a time when the prize was for unpublished manuscripts. Although the finished novel took the better part of a decade to finally emerge, The Music Child and the Mahjong Queen exemplifies the Prize’s objective of facilitating the publication of new and eye-opening Asian fiction.

The child in question is Luisito, born and raised in the rainforest, alongside the Maligta, an aboriginal group who play instruments strung with specially-prepared human hair. Luisito does doesn’t speak but rather sings with an unworldly tone and an ability to mimic everything from the sound of the sea to operas stars from recordings. He can improvise and innovate: “He’d turn a score by Wagner upside down and make a sport of it.” Luisito is a prodigy, singing literally from birth, a sort of vocal Mozart.

Luisito is orphaned in an armed raid by commercial loggers encroaching on the Maligta’s lands. Traumatized, he is taken under the wing of an academic who had known of him; the boy is mute and when he regains his voice, it is to speak, not to sing. He maintains his ability to mimic and entrance everyone around him, from children to adults. He is some years later passed to a colleague in Japan who shepherds him through high school. Luisito throughout displays a wide-eyed innocence, absorbing sounds and radiating goodwill. Read more

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