marcel barang

Four Reigns: de profundis

In English on 01/07/2010 at 6:37 pm


Three days ago I finally managed to get ML Visumitra Pramoj’s phone number and left a message on her portable to the effect that I wished to ask for permission to publish my translation of her father’s See Phaendin or Four Reigns. I understand she inherited the rights to the novel at Kukrit’s death in 1995.

‘Khun Paem’ (as ML Visumitra introduced herself) returned the call this afternoon. She had been in Chiang Mai.

The outcome of a twenty-minute conversation – retracing my relationship with her father since 1976 and with Khun Sondhi since 1974, the TMC programme started in 1994, and the difference between ‘adaptation’ and ‘translation’ – was that…
…I can put my translation away in some drawer and forget about it.
She needn’t even see a copy: her eyesight is bad these days and she can hardly read.

The existing English version by ‘Tulachandra’ (pen name of husband Tulaya and wife Chaemchand – Tun and Jaemjan in Thai pronunciation) was approved by the author, you see. She understood that he had participated in it along with the dear couple and had insisted that there should be no other translation of that work. That book, recently reprinted, is making money – mine would be in competition with it. If I published my translation as an e-book only, perhaps this could be considered, but it should generate revenue – ‘What are your terms?’

The end of the conversation went something like this:

‘You shouldn’t have translated it into English. Why didn’t you translate it into French instead?’
‘Because I happen to be employed by Khun Sondhi on an English-language literary translation programme, and no French publisher has expressed interest in this book anyway.’
‘Actually, we should be the ones hiring you for a translation and then publishing it: it’s more rewarding for us this way, wouldn’t you say?’
‘! … So how should we proceed regarding the e-book?’
‘We’ll think about it and we’ll get in touch with you. Goodbye now.’

Ah, well, only another thirty-five years to wait before the work falls into the public domain and delivers us from greed.

  1. I use your wonderful translations all the time to learn more Thai.

    Why don’t you reformat the translation so that it sits next to (in parallel with)the Thai and show her how this can be used by Thai students to learn English and foreign students to learn Thai, thus providing a whole new audience for this work, and thus honouring the great deceased author even more.

    In ebook format this could be done fairly easily.

    Just an idea.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

  2. So, what’s going to happen now with the manuscript?

    Do you recommend the other published version?

  3. Marcel, Khun Sondhi paid you for the translation * If I understand, his company asked you to translate without the copyright ? Well, nice job, but bit frustrating no ?

  4. To answer the above comments:
    – Jon: good idea but unworkable on a 900-page book; I’ll shortly start publishing a series of bilingual short fiction (Thai and English on facing pages, to be compared line by line; good for general readers and useful to learners of English and of Thai) – paper or web, that is the question.
    – Mihnea: I haven’t decided yet on what to do with the translation, besides what I announced earlier on this blog; the other published version is a fairly good, openly didactic introduction to Thai palace mores, but is definitely not the novel Kukrit wrote.
    – Philippe: Sondhi is my boss and pays my salary while leaving me free to decide on what is worth translating, which goes back in this case to 1994 when I set up Thai Modern Classics. It was my decision to translate See Phaendin without permission to publish, because from a literary point of view the novel is well worth translating, with or without the approval of its author or his heirs or their commercial considerations. Thirty-five years from now, when the original novel is in the public domain, no permission to publish will be needed. Besides, according to current Thai copyright laws, if I donate my translation to a foundation, that foundation can publish it without asking for permission as a work of public interest. We are considering this option.

  5. How frustrating for you, and 35 years is almost a life time!
    Hope you can find a way out soon.

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