Chor Karrakeit, since its latest reincarnation three years ago, has been a quarterly compendium of short stories and, like its previous versions, a great launching pad for would-be writers, thanks to its all-time editor, Suchart Sawasdisri (pr. sa.wat.see).
Nai Suchart having decided to move to other pastures, with issue 55 Chor Karrakeit is no longer, even though four dozen submitted short stories are still in the pipeline. Whether or not some other editor with financial pull – such as Sa-manchon publisher Wiang Vachira Buason – will give this ‘bunch of pandanus’ a new airing is unknown: aphrodisiac pandanus flowers come at a price.
The first half of this last, current, issue makes for harrowing reading, as it is, by and large, if fittingly enough, focused on old age and death.
The epigraph page features my friend Nopphorn Suwannapha-nit (1949-2009), a jolly fellow whose hit-and-miss compilations of sometimes outdated or arcane but always bawdy American slang earned him the affectionate nickname of ‘A-jarn Sapadon’ (Dirty Old Prof). Struck early by hemiplegia, he recovered enough to speak, sort of: I used to dread his phone calls, so hard to decipher, and also because the next day almost invariably there would be a military coup. We used to joke about it. I miss him, especially now that coup rumours abound yet again: I’m sure he’d have called, on the wrongheaded assumption that I, in my cave, might sense the pulse of the nation better than he did.
Pride of place at the front of the book goes to the recent dead (Tak Wong-rat) and to the living dead (Chartvut Bunyarak, who half missed his second attempt at suicide: I’m told he lives on, but without a brain).
Follow ten stories commissioned to old hands – and the dominant theme is old age and death, starting with Atsiri Thammachoat’s short but devastating ‘In the night of old age’ (Nai Khamkhuen Khong Khwam Chara), which I’ll translate soon: it’s plugged into last year’s urban death throes and my probable future; Rueang-yoo’s ‘The house of death’ (Barn Khong Khwam Tai), which I translated the other day to pass the time of gloom; or ‘Rabbit in the moonlight’ (Kratai Nai Saeng Jan), Rewat Pongpipat’s sombre musings now that the lad’s turned fifty. What will he write when he’s ninety?
A few others make for good reading: Nattakarn Limsatharphorn’s ‘I’d like to be a dog instead of you lot’ (Koo Yark Pen Ma Thaen Phuak Mueng), Forn Fa-fang’s ‘Hands off my business’ (Rueang Khong Phom Khon UEn Mai Kiao) or Takei-san’s ‘Things’ (Khong).
And then there’s the new blood, unusually rich this time around. Of the fourteen stories in this section, three took my fancy:
‘The faces of those in control’ (Bai Na Phoo Khrorp-ngarm) by Theeraphon See-an is a stream-of-consciousness rambling about identity and social manipulation which shows great literary promise and, as usual with this kind of leaping text of fancy, would be hell to translate;
‘Dog muck village’ (Moo Barn Khee Ma) by Saengsatta na Plaifa is a droll allegory whose meaning I leave it to readers to figure out: a village is plagued by morning dog mess in front of each of its hundred houses and the reactions of the villagers are something to write home about;
and then there’s my favourite in this issue, the highly improbable and yet true-to-life and caustic ‘When I received the Nobel Prize for Literature’ (Muea Kha-phajao Dai Rap Rang-wan No-bein Sa-ka Wannakam) by Bunchit Fakmee.
Over the latter story, a disclaimer is in order: I’ve no idea who Bunchit Fakmee (listed abodes: ‘Bangkok/France’) is, and my name is not Jean-Pierre Macias. At first I thought Chart Korbjitti was playing one of his pranks under an assumed name, but he’s no Romain Gary and his prankster’s vein doesn’t extend to the written word. Not that he doesn’t deserve that prize.