Magic, depravity, spiritual ambition, sensuality, and love ― The Painted Alphabet binds mythic and modern time together in a rich, slyly suggestive novel based on an old Balinese poem. In a fresh and startling picture of Bali ― where witches coexist with tourists and talking animals ― the novel explores a kaleidoscope of vanity, desire, and the longing for goodness.
An excerpt from Diana Darling’s classic novel, which The New Yorker called “A dazzling little gem of a novel”
now available on kindle
From Chapter 3
At this moment, the orbit of the soul of Klinyar gives off a searing whine, and the gods are keen to have her incarnate soon: in the netherworld as in life, she is disruptive. Her repeated delinquencies have brought her again and again to the judicial bench of Bhatara Yama, the Lord of Dharma, before whom she has appeared each time as unrepentant as a diamond. Each time, she was relegated to a darker dimension of hell, only to burn more viciously invulnerable to its punishment. When she joined in the torturing of the other souls of the damned, Bhatara Yama called on the Great God Shiva to intervene.
“Even among the damned, my Lord, she is corrosive,” said the God Yama. “She regards suffering with sarcasm.”
“Bring her to me, good Yama.”
Then the God Shiva condensed himself into a steep violet vacuum, sonorous and vast. From the periphery of this heavenly field of force came a thin, screaming line, and the soul of Klinyar was hurtled into its midst.
Nothing in the midst of nothing.
For a long while there was only stasis as the soul of Klinyar lay inert in the heart of God. Eventually there arose a swelling tension, a deepening and drawing away, leaving the soul of Klinyar suspended — a single ingredient of glow bobbing uncertainly, without vector.
The God Shiva substantiated further, condensing around Klinyar until he became a swarming brightness, and his single sound shattered into a shimmering array of high, bell-like tones. The soul of Klinyar, too, swelled in rapid complication, until at last they rested face to face in a state of radiant plasma — Klinyar in the form of an embryonic curl, and the Lord God Shiva in the shape of a perfect rose. Tendrils of light connected them, and they began to converse.
“Now Klinyar, do you know that even hell is in the embrace of heaven?”
There was a silence, then a tiny buzz and the smell of sulfur.
“Klinyar, I have a plan for you. I want you to grow,” said the God Shiva. Klinyar yanked against her tether of light until it became a thread, and then only a strand of photons. The petals of the rose lifted lightly, and the ray became a vine that gathered Klinyar curling back to a comfortable distance before the rose. The God’s voice was like scent. “Hell is not challenging enough for you. You need refining. We’re going to send you back to life-on-earth.”
“No no no no no.” Klinyar sobbed and gagged miserably.
“Are you afraid, my tiny ogre? Everybody’s afraid going in and out. But you’ve done this before. You know you always arrive.”
“Oh, my Lord, it’s not just that. I’m not good at being there. It weighs too much. I’m wanting all the time. It hurts there. Everything I do, they stop me.”
The God Shiva murmured to Klinyar. “I know, I know. That’s exactly the way it is. This time it will be a little different for you. There’s a special part for you, just as you are.” The God did not add that it is always that way. “And this time, I will be close to you. Not with you, but close. You will be alone like everyone else, but if you need me and if you call upon me, I will come to you and help you.”
“And I will show you how you can help us,” continued the Lord God from deep inside the rose.
“Lies! Dead teeth! Stinking peony! Broken radio!” And so on.
At this, the Lord Shiva burst into long, happy peals of laughter, fluttering the petals of the rose. The laughter calmed, and the God said, “Oh, Klinyar,” and then began laughing again, the rose rocking with hilarity. “This is going to be good,” he said with a high-pitched sigh, and started laughing all over again.
“Whinnying idiot!” Klinyar’s screeching blasphemy rolled on. The Lord God continued to chuckle for a moment.
“My little Klinyar. You still have all the world to understand. I am all the world. And so are you. Now back to school and work that out. I’m sending you to Bali. It’s not quite so remote from us.”
Then there was a marvelous explosion. The soul of Klinyar was hurtled deep into obscurity, where it lay mute, pushed helplessly down through the double-helix road on the peristaltic journey toward birth. Klinyar would not recall this private audience with the Lord of Lords until many years later, but it left an iridescence that Klinyar carried from birth, much to the consternation of her parents.