Thursday, January 19, 2023

Q&A with Brandon Ying Kit Boey



Brandon Ying Kit Boey is the author of the new novel Karma of the Sun. He has worked as a child actor, an attorney, and an investment banker, and he lives in Maine.


Q: What inspired you to write Karma of the Sun, and how did you create your character Karma?


A: Karma of the Sun came from this picture that formed in my mind one day of a boy traveling on foot to a distant mountain—a mountain that was hollow, some kind of primordial pillar between heaven and earth.


There were questions that needed to be answered: Who was the boy? Why was he traveling to this mountain? Why was the mountain hollow? Who created it—some past civilization or completely from natural forces? And what happened to the mountain and can it be restored?


As pieces of the story came together in sketches, I began to learn about Mount Kailash and Mount Meru. I thought of my own travels backpacking in Western China. And from that, Karma was born, a teenage boy living at the edge of the Tibetan frontier on the eve of the apocalypse.


I drew heavily from Eastern eschatological writings. He was born after six of the seven apocalyptic suns, basically paying the price of others’ past mistakes, waiting for the end as the earth is heaving its last breaths.


Karma has every reason to give in to the prophecy. But he still wants something—this is what sets him on his journey before the end. It turns out that what he wants is to find his father, to connect with him one last time. But what he discovers, out of this spark of hope, changes the world.


Q: The novel is set in an alternative version of the Himalayas--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: In Karma of the Sun, the setting is very important—it’s almost a character itself in the story. The setting is the end of the world, but unlike the apocalyptic stories we’re used to, this one is in Tibet, in the Himalayas.


Tibet, you say? Why there? Well, aside from the fact that it might be more likely than not that we find survivors from a worldwide nuclear catastrophe in the now-isolated highlands of the Himalayas where they are protected from the war and ensuing fallout by the mountain range (as compared to, say, a major Western city), the book is about a final, impending catastrophe.

The characters talk about a seventh, and final, apocalyptic sun, a concept taken straight out of the 29 BCE text called The Pali Canon. However, there are no more nuclear armaments that they know of. They are the last remnants of human civilization. But they are living under this pall of their forbears, paying the price of the karma of the prior generations who destroyed the earth.


This curse, this prophecy of the seventh apocalyptic sun—six suns, six blasts in the sky; a seventh, and the earth will die—haunts them.


Do they tragically take on that prophecy and fulfill it somehow, destroying themselves? It is like a forgone conclusion, something as inevitable as the fact that every world culture believes in an end. Or do they exercise their own karma, their own power of action, to break the cycle and write their own future?


There is something especially haunting about this question when asked in the stark, lonesome plains of Kham, where you hear in the wind the howl of the ghosts of our world. There is something beautiful about the devastation, the clutter removed, and all you have is the cold of a nuclear winter. In this landscape, hope shines all the more brighter.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I think I had a general sense of the direction of the story, but the story and ending evolved along the way. I look back and see how my own thinking and view changed during Karma’s journey even as he grew and matured. I feel like we arrived at the end together.


Q: The author Erin Swan said of the book, “A hero's journey for the end of the world, Karma of the Sun is a must-read for anyone reckoning with where we are now and where we will go next.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think her description refers to the challenging times that we live in. Contention, civil strife, global pandemic, a threat of nuclear war that was unthinkable a few years ago. A person could not be faulted for wondering if our demise is around the corner, particularly since every world culture and tradition—and this is the point—believes in an apocalypse.


What does this say about our faith in humanity? Perhaps things really are as dismal. Perhaps the world traditions are correct, that there will be an end. Perhaps it really is not far off. How do we reckon with that?


The message of the book, and I think what Erin Swan is alluding to, is that the prophecy says that the world is going to end, but it never says when. So long as there is life, there is still time. And where there is still time, there is hope, no matter how bleak.


Karma of the Sun is set in the bleakest of situations, where the hero’s journey is literally a hopeless one, but still he persists. And I think there is something we can learn from that.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a ghost story set (in part) in pre-war Shanghai, told from the point of view of the Chinese God of Theatre. There are big things going on in the world, where the action in the theatre of war parallels the drama of the theater. Against this backdrop, a family’s relationships are tested to see if some bonds can withstand even the biggest upheavals.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I hope you will enjoy Karma of the Sun! You can follow me on IG: @boeybooks, Twitter: @BrandonYKBoey, or my website: Feel free to drop a line. I would love to hear what you think!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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