Let’s take Phoo Dee first. As of Tuesday 6 October, the case is solved anyway. But it’s an edifying story all the same.
Through the grapevine, I learned in late February that the copyright owner of the novel was the National Library of Thailand. Why this should be more than seventy years after its publication – well, never mind that. So on 4 March I presented myself to the National Library and gave the person in charge a letter in Thai asking for permission to publish. Her answer: ‘You should have asked for permission to translate in the first place.’
Ah, so, I was guilty of phit katika, lèse-bureaucracy.
I explained that when I translated the novel about two years earlier, I was in no position to have my work printed; now that I was, I was asking for permission to print.
She pulled out a thick file and said: This is the request from a French publisher for permission to translate Phoo Dee into French. That’s what you should have done.
I said: Let’s not play with words. When a foreign publisher asks for permission to translate, it is with the aim of hiring a translator and having the book published eventually. I happen to have read the translation in question: it came out at the end of last year under the title Les Nobles. This translation is full of mistakes, which shows that you weren’t given the opportunity to check it, once you gave away your permission to … translate. I’m not just asking for permission to publish: here is the complete book for you to check and, if you have corrections to make, I will be glad to make them, before publication.
Here, I must explain, as I did to the person in charge, that I got lucky: the printers I addressed myself to for printing on demand are friends and eager to please me (and get my business). I remonstrated with them that one weakness of locally made books, especially paperbacks as I was ordering, was that either you could not open them wide or, if you did, you broke their spine and pages started flying. To prove to me that they could do a good job, the printers made for me one copy each of five fairly thick novels, one of which was Noblesse oblige. [They further told me that these were hand-made, but if I ordered several hundred copies at a time, those would be machine-made and they couldn’t guarantee the same results; to which I answered that they were wishing for me to have few sales, a strange way to start a business.]
Anyway, that’s how I came to have one copy to offer the National Library for perusal.
The person in charge told me that she would forward the matter to their nitikorn (law officer). When I called her back one month later, and again the month after that, the matter was with the law officer…
This bothered me quite a lot but since the website was not anywhere near ready, and I have a limited budget for phone calls, I waited and only woke up a few days ago, thinking I would give a last chance to the National Library to come clean with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
I called the person in charge. A man answered. The person in charge had retired only days ago. Yes, he knew of the case and, wait a sec’, I’ll give you the name and phone number of the law officer. I had the impression right away of landing in a different world and that a cloud might be lifting.
I called the law officer and stated my case in a few words. She merely asked me to ring her back the next day to give her time to review the case, and the next day she said she would advise that I be granted permission, especially now as I only wanted to handle e-books.
As Sila Komchai would say, ‘It was as simple as that.’
As for the third, pending case, I’ll tell you about it some other time. It’s too long and too spookily funny a story to be told right now. And I’m sleepy enough as it is.