Way back in 1997, Arunwadi Arunmart, then in her early twenties, published a disturbing novel with a kilometric title (actually a subtitle, no title having been found): Karn Lom Salai Khong Satha-barn Khropkrua Thee Khwamrak Mai Art Yiaoya – The disintegration of the family institution that love cannot remedy.
That year, short-listed for the SEA Write Award, the novel was printed twice. A cult book, it was reprinted in 2003. It hasn’t aged a bit.
One day, I read its first forty-odd pages with growing disgust and felt like throwing it away: playing with your blood, isn’t that revolting?
I have a rule, though: read at least fifty pages of any novel to assess whether it’s any good. So, having slept on it, the next morning I resumed reading and … found myself wanting: the day before, I had let moral prejudice overtake my literary judgment. There was nothing wrong with this novel from a literary point of view; it was actually outstanding, in all meanings of the word, even if its first chapter was a bit gauche and its final line a stretch.
I announced publicly that I would translate it and, true to form, shortly thereafter did so. In French, as it happened, under the title La Voix du Sang.
The novel caught the fancy of Éditions de l’Aube (‘un texte fort !’), along with L’Empailleur de rêves, my translation of Nikom Rayawa’s magnificent Taling Soong Sung Nak (ably translated into English by Richard C. Lair and published by Penguin Books Australia as High Banks, Heavy Logs, 1991).
But something went slightly wrong.
Éditions de l’Aube went ahead first with L’Empailleur de rêves, in early 1998. Once I had corrected the proofs they sent me and waited for the all-important back cover presentation, they stopped all communications with me.
Months later, a Swiss friend’s daughter on a leisure trip to Thailand brought me a copy of L’Empailleur, which had indeed been published in June.
More than two years went by. When I got in touch with Éditions du Seuil and Centre National du Livre first for the publication of Saneh Sangsuk’s L’Ombre blanche, I made sure the world of French publishing was aware of what had happened to L’Empailleur de rêves.
As luck had it, in late 2000 one of Éditions de l’Aube’s authors was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature – some Paris-cocooned Chinese would-be Proust with a mountain for a soul.
In early 2001, a financially buoyed-up Éditions de l’Aube contacted me again: ‘We seem to have forgotten to pay you.’
They proceeded to do so – even sent me ten copies of the book, as translators are entitled to. But when they reissued the novel as a paperback, they didn’t inform me. Nor have they ever sent me yearly notice of sales and earnings of the book as French publishers are bound to do by law. To this day I have no idea whether Nikom Rayawa has received his dues from that cutthroat outfit.
Meanwhile, of course, there was no question of them playing the same trick on La Voix du Sang.
Unfortunately, two or three other French publishers turned it down in short order so that my translation was shelved for a full decade. Then found its way on thaifiction.com as an e-book, and lately also, still as an e-book, on immatériel.fr.
But now, La Voix du Sang is to be put on sale in France as a book!
I’ve long lost track of Arunwadi Arunmart and need to get in touch with her to tell her the good news.
The deal is this: a new publishing firm in Paris, D-Fiction, is setting up a ‘publish on demand’ section and will be testing the market with a few books. Publish on demand or POD means that books are printed electronically on request only, more or less at the price of an ordinary book. A few copies will be advertised and displayed in the main bookshops and listed online everywhere – there is no need to keep stocks or pay distributors – and payment will be made to printers, publishers, bookshops, authors and translators depending on sales.
Wish us all luck. This is the new world of digital publishing. One sure way to the future.
I reformatted the book for D-Fiction the other day according to their elegant specs. They will provide the cover. For fun, and as I didn’t like theirs, I produced one myself, not meant for publication: I’m using a picture of Arunwadi’s from one website or other without permission. Here it is.
One way to keep track of Arunwadi was to purchase her latest book. I did this yesterday. It’s her eleventh, published in March this year – a collection of poems, Samphat Bambat (Rhyme Therapy) – and a thorough disappointment … as well as a source of worry about the person she has become.
The shortest poem has twelve words [Scary beauty: A lit-up tree | Sends flickering lights | Birds dare not nest), the longest one hundred and twenty. They talk of love, of the wounds of life, of time that fugits, and one full third of them wallow in the would-be glory and terrors of old age – and the author isn’t even forty! What’s wrong with the woman? Yes, she wasn’t quite twenty-one when she finished writing Karn Lom Salai… in 1995 and must have considered herself a wonder kid all of these years, but, hey, what’s this fixation on wai chara and the drooping of her breasts in horny middle age?
What’s wrong with the poet is more discernable: with very few exceptions, like the one above, her limericks brood on hackneyed ideas on very narrow topics or dubious dichotomies. But then, this only confirms what I saw of her short tales or sketches of – what? fourteen, fifteen years ago, when she was still basking in the aura of being preselected for the SEA Write Award she will never get.