marcel barang

Taking a break with Seksan

In English on 12/11/2009 at 8:12 pm


Now 4reigns3that Book 3 of Four Reigns has joined Book 2 on my Thai editor’s desk over there in Australia, before I tackle the remaining 320 pages of Book 4, I need to take a break and nothing is more revitalising than switching to another style of writing, from the journalistic ease of Kukrit Pramoj to the patrician coruscations of Seksan Prasertkul.

That’s why (taking a break) I cleaned and waxed my worktable this morning, burned some grass, answered some mail, watered the plants now that the rains are easing out, had the traditional Japanese dinner last night with my daughter to mark her latest, mid-year exam success, and finished reading that Japanese novel in French, Tarō, un vrai roman, by Minaé Mizumura (Le Seuil, Paris, 2009).*

I’ve just laboured on a 1986 short story of Seksan’s, which I had already translated into French more than ten ago when I put together a collection of some of his best under tseksanmeeyaihe title Vivre debout (Éditions Kergour, Paris, 1998). But why is it that I always get the impression that my English version is better than the French one? Maybe because, for one thing, I work in English out of several Thai-English dictionaries whereas in French, for lack of a really good Thai-French dictionary, more often than not I practise double translation in my head from the Thai into French via English, a source of approximations, of à peu près. Also because it’s the second time around? Not always. And we’ll see how it goes when I tackle Phan Ma Ba (Mad Dogs & Co) in French.

The other morning I had a shock opening the Bangkok Post. There was a fat article by Sulak Sivaraksa on Seksan with a black-and-white picture of his aged self with one of his dogs on his lap. Was Seksan dead? I had talked to him on the phone only the day before. No, it was merely an early celebration of sorts of his sixtieth birthday day after tomorrow. I called him there and then. He wasn’t aware of the article – couldn’t find a copy of the Post and eventually read the piece on the net. It isn’t for me to say what he thought of that (rather bizarre) homage.

But going back to my labours, it strikes me as funny that my two editors, Khun Na and GB, are total human mismatches to the undersigned, and yet I couldn’t do without them. I find my raison de vivre in work, to the exclusion of almost anything else. I pay for it in a dolorous bottom and swollen feet spending so many hours seated in front of a computer. But I work à ma main, as French has it.

My editors, the one in Australia, the other in Alsace, are both highly competent. They are both women in their sixties, both with an active social life that means much to them. But what’s wrong with these girls? One finds pleasure of a Saturday ‘fast walking’ twenty-seven kilometres to view castle ruins up some Alsatian peak, drinking coffee out of tuna cans; the other writes: ‘have set myself a goal to be fit enough by Feb 6, to walk eight 2000m peaks of Mt. Kosciuszko in two days’! Takes all sorts, really…

Moralité : à chacun sa façon de s’envoyer en l’air.

* This will do for a book review, as sent to the editor who supervised the publication of this novel:

Tarō, untaro vrai roman m’a beaucoup plu, pour sa construction en pâte feuilletée (mettre l’auteur en scène est audacieux et payant, la narration de troisième main en sort renforcée, branchée qu’elle est sur le réel et en contraste dudit), pour son démarquage (partiel) des Hauts de Hurlevent sauce Gatsby et comparses, et sa transposition dans un monde balzaconippon à fort message social voire politique, pour son écriture féminine et ses notations psychosociologiques mine de rien, et pour les outrances mêmes de son pathos. L’auteur est un orfèvre.
Que le Japon soit ce que Minaé en dit je ne saurais juger, mais ça me donne (presque) l’envie d’aller voir. Novateur me semble son regard extérieur qui est en fait un regard, une perspective, mondialiste. Minae Mizumura as a child of globalisation
Ce qui me gêne dans ce grand-œuvre, c’est – outre l’absence de brillant dans le style (mais c’est peut-être dû à la traduction) parfait toutefois pour le mode fonctionnel de la narration – ce qui en fait le prix : une jonglerie littéraire, comme s’il fallait à toute force pour être moderne ou postmoderne chercher ses sources dans ce qui s’inventait deux siècles plus tôt. Un jour, cette dame écrira un roman sans béquilles, si les apparitions publiques ne la stérilisent pas.


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