Last week, thanks to a kind soul, I was invited to the ministry of Culture, which by chance is quite close to my place, to see what could be done to enlarge the readership of Thai fiction in foreign languages. The meeting, which lasted two good hours, was informal and friendly, and may bear fruit at a later date. Basically, it was a way for Marcel Barang to make his work and potential better known to officialdom.
In the course of it, I was provided with a handsome, freshly produced, 600-page anthology of Thai and Malaysian writings in three languages – Thai, Malay and English – which can be taken as an example of what is wrong with government-sponsored literary publications.
Starting with the title: Truth Globalize, which means absolutely nothing in English; try Globalized.
The book consists of five Thai and five Malaysian short stories and two bunches of Malay and Thai poems in equal numbers. Last night, I went through the English section, which consists of short stories by Prabhassorn Sevikul, Paitoon Thanya, Prabda Yun, Ratanachai Manabutr and Jirapat Angsumali.
I quite enjoyed Paitoon’s ‘A Java Man’s Son’, which I had read earlier in Thai, and Jirapat’s ‘Perversion 69’, for its daring if not for its execution and import – the story of a monk and woman caught shot dead in the 69 position and how the whole village makes a killing on that number in the next lottery draw, among other events.
The trouble is that none of these stories, or the poems that follow, has been properly edited or properly formatted – orphans and widows abound, and this is the first time in more than half a century of reading books that I encounter flying dashes; in some stories, but by no means all, they have turned into commas or dots up there in the air between lines!
What a shame!
The Thai poems have been thoroughly butchered by their one translator, no doubt an Anaïs Nin fan, whose grinding reduced them all to minced meat.
When I read the piece by Ungkarn Chantatip, my first reaction was, ‘No wonder I can’t make sense of the fellow!’ only to realise the other poems were in the same discombobulated style. Here is a sample:
Orange fish, kind of know called Nemo.
Weird big-eyed cat, Doraemon.
Like floating log, crocodile, on the shoulders carried around
little monkey. Tea leaf eating worm.
Make of this what you will. A quick look afterwards at the Thai version showed me the extent of the damage.
All right, when I have a bit of leisure, I’ll retranslate those poems here.
When I reached the Malaysian section, which starts with ‘The story of the first night of marriage’ by a Muhammad Lutfi Ishak (self-penned? self-translated?), I couldn’t go beyond page 2, due to a severe attack of the giggles at the chap’s Pidgin English.
Here is the first page (page 485 of the book):
Night had dawned. The owl is heard charming the moon. Serene. And daylight seems to be approaching.
The moon slowly fades; its golden colour merges with the grey clouds. The owl that had long perched on the tree branch wagged its wings to and fro, and flew off disappearing into the dusk. And there is not a single star glitter at sight. Night murk without a shred of light, as if forming an enormous piece of black cloth, bagging all world inhabitants – trees, soil, grasses, hills, rivers, mergastua, rocks, her, everything.
Above, the thunder rumbles continuously while lightning strikes per phase, specks is seen flying, it daunts to his moustache, the hair on his cheek, his curly tresses, his pug-nose, his broad palatial chest – then he wakes up, scratching something on his rear before climbing down the flock of wood-stairs, going into a house that is more worthy to be called a shack, and then thus, closing the creaking door. It is going to rain, he said to himself. Yes, I believe, on my first night of my marriage, it’s going to rain.
My little Malay-English dictionary tells me mergastua means ‘animals in the jungle’, but I’ll never know what happened on that first night of marriage, nor am I likely to have time for the other Malaysian short stories therein anytime soon.
But how can such a piece have made it into such a book? It’s so below standards that it drags down the whole endeavour.
This work, which mobilised at least a dozen persons and took three years from conception to publication, was issued in one thousand copies meant to be given away to, one may guess, friends and acquaintances of the persons involved and passersby such as me, and perhaps some public libraries? All to the furthering of good feelings between neighbours, of course, thanks to quite a hefty budget from the taxpayer, no doubt – and all that to sia na on the foreign (English) side.
Is this the best way to promote Thai literature?