Merlinda Bobis’s The Solemn Lantern Maker: The Ethics of Traumatic Cross-Cultural Encounters

Dolores Herrero


Merlinda Bobis’s second novel is an interesting combination of opposites: of the powerless and the powerful, the holy and the profane, the magical and the seedy, Third-World Asian poverty and white Western affluence. The Solemn Lantern Maker is a traumatized mute 10-year-old boy who lives with his crippled mother in the slums of Manila. One day, when trying to sell his colourful wares, he becomes involved in the life of a grieved American tourist who is caught up in a murder of a controversial journalist. In this post-9/11 climate, this event will soon be wrongly interpreted as a terrorist conspiracy. My paper will rely on some of the most relevant assumptions put forward by ethical criticism and trauma studies to show that Bobis’s novel succeeds in illustrating how the powerful world of international politics can inadvertently impinge on the small world of an insignificant Third-World child, and how the love and care that this child offers to an unknown distressed westerner eventually manages to play the miracle of transforming the latter’s life, thus making it clear that Bobis’s allegory of traumatic cross-cultural encounters testifies to the power of the (un)common to render the invisible visible, and of the unselfish circulation of affect to effect unexpected changes in an apparently indifferent globalized world.


Merlinda Bobis; ethical criticism; trauma studies; post-9/11 novels

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