marcel barang

A literary milestone

In English, Reading matters on 26/01/2012 at 8:34 pm

So, it’s finally come through the post after a long wait: วรรณมาลัย (Wannamarlai), an anthology of outstanding Thai short stories written between 1932 and 2010, officially published last September by the Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. Apparently the ministry’s website is still suffering from the Great Flood, as it has yet to announce the birth – and there’s no picture of the flowery cover to be culled anywhere on the net.

Of course, even more eagerly awaited is the second tome: the same stories translated into English, to be published … later this year, budget willing.

Also in the OCAC pipeline: English translations of three novels: ฝั่งแสงจันทร์ (Fang Saengjan – The moonlit shore) by Prachakom Lunachai, ปลายนาฟ้าเขียว (Plai Na Fa Khiao – literally Green sky at the end of the rice field) by Wat Wanlayangkoon and ชะบน (Chabon) by Thirayut Daojanthuek. The latter almost made it into my list of ‘the 20 best Thai novels’ some two decades ago, along with Nippan’s Pheesuea Lae Dorkmai (Butterflies and flowers): I found it a bit too narrow in scope and at times long-winded, even though it’s written beautifully.

Forget the cheap paper and the cramming of its 560 pages with print too small for tired eyes: this is a treasure trove of some of the best short fiction ever published in Thailand in the eyes of a dozen Thai literary luminaries. Besides, it’s free.
Get yourself a copy while stocks last, through ocac.go.th.

This ‘literary garland’, as the title translates, lines up 41 stories by 41 writers, only six of them female. Many of the names are well known and feature in all anthologies, but here with an alternative story. For instance, Dorkmai Sot has a one-page story rather than her regular ‘Phonlamueang Dee’ (The good citizen, which I featured some time ago in my bilingual blog). I’ve just read that page and am left perplexed: was that her next best effort?
Others are less known but will welcome the exposure (and incite jealousy). A few I’ve heard of but have yet to read, and who is Nat Sartsongwit? No matter how I spell the name in English, Google won’t tell me. I’ll read his story next.
There are some surprising absences – major writers of the past such as Yacob, Malai Choophinit and Humorist, all, I’m told, dismissed under the far-fetched claim that they borrowed most of their plots from western stories (what is Kukrit Pramoj doing here then?); and top contemporary short-story writers as well, none of whom more laughably dismissed than Chart Korbjitti as allegedly having penned no outstanding story!
Ditto for Wimon Sainimnuan or Thatsanawadee, among others.
The lengthy, informative introduction protects the selection committee from controversy over absent worthy writers by claiming problems with copyrights. Yeah, right, I sympathise: Bunluea is another noticeable absentee.

To the future volume of English translations I’m to contribute four stories, translated at various times in the past fifteen years: Seni Saowapong’s ‘The lone sunflower’ (available on my bilingual blog); Sila Komchai’s ‘Blood buds’ (published in Caravan in 1994); Phaithoon Thanya’s ‘A death in the month of October’; and Chatcharin Chaiwat’s ‘Boy’s reporter’ (at OCAC’s request) – the latter two featured in 11 Thai short stories – 2011 now available at thaifiction.com.
I was surprised by the listing in the anthology of a fifth story, ‘The wish’ by Prachakom Lunachai, a rather corny short story I translated some time ago for the Bangkok Post. Obviously, it’ll be translated by someone else, and it’ll be interesting to compare the two versions.

The downside of this volume for me is that, promising as it may be in its scope, variety and literary quality, I may not translate those stories I find most interesting, unless the translations to be published are dismal. I reckon we’ll have to wait and see.

  1. Bonjour
    Le lien Get yourself a copy while stocks last, through ocac.go.th. ne fonctionne pas…
    Bravo pour votre site et votre travail!

  2. When will the paperback version of the 11 Thai Short Stories be available?

  3. What would you recommend to someone reading Thai literature for the first time? I will have to read an English translation, so I am interested in work that you believe to be translated well. Thank you for your blog.

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