marcel barang

Journal (2)

In English, Reading matters on 24/04/2012 at 1:49 am

Let me explain: dark clouds have gathered over my professional horizon. It looks like I might soon no longer be my own boss and have to swap freewheeling literary translation for much less appealing work or else… How soon? End of month probably when the Manager Group cookie crumbles.

Unfortunately, someone with a sense of humour – or is it a touch of sadism? – at the Thai ministry of Culture had asked me and I had agreed to check and edit the translation of a Thai novel by a Thai professor I had panned in a previous posting (5 Jun 2011) and who, incidentally, had then the cheek to ask me to take that posting off my blog.

That novel is Plai Na Fa Khiao, Grey Sky at Plaina according to her, Stormy skies over Plai Na according to me.

She sent me her translation just before the Songkran holiday and it has been forced labour ever since. Almost every sentence has to be corrected, either for its Thaiglish or for not doing justice to the original: literary subtleties are apparently not the honourable professor of translation’s forte.

The text in my format runs to 112 A-4-sized pages. I started, as I always do, at word 1.

After two full days of toil, I found I had progressed only to page 7 and realised I had made a mistake: I was substituting my translation to hers. She might well resent that. So I decided to go through her text highlighting what I found clunky or implausible. That took another two and a half days. At that point, I sent her the fruits of my labour, to test the waters. Her answer was that – ‘Please don’t be irritated’ – her title was fine and my transliteration system all wrong.

Since then, I’ve forged ahead regardless, from noon to dead of night, at a snail’s pace. Colouring in blue the passages that read well but are mere summaries without the bells and whistles (let’s make them roadside casualties), I’m still on page 47 and on my knees, my neurons frazzled – that’s why I’m writing this: as a restorative exercise.

To be truthful, there have been diversions: this morning, the brushing up of Gavroche’s May editorial even before I brushed my teeth.
Three nights ago, a never-again venture to Siam Square (heat, noise, squeeze, weary faces) to the premiere of Asorraphit/Venom, the film derived from Saneh Sangsuk’s immortal tale. The beer-sodden author, touchingly grateful to his talent scout cum translator, insisted on my talking into a mike on stage. I demurred. The film, borrowing also from his next snake slithering work (Jao Karrakeit, Une Histoire vieille comme la pluie in French), was very well produced, barring the laughable rubber snake, a derisive paean to Thai folk culture.
Altogether the ordeal for me lasted four hours and a half from door to door and it was only by close to midnight that I had the leisure of a glass of pastis and a token sandwich. What with the tension of subbing that other novel, I hadn’t slept for the previous two days.

There is more: the odd final touches to two stories previously translated – one tongue-in-cheek by Win Lyovarin, ‘Percolations’, I’ll post next week on my bilingual blog (oh heck, it still needs formatting!), another tongue-in-I’d-rather-not-say-where by incontournable Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, ‘Made of glass’, I’ll keep for the year-end anthology if I’m still alive and kicking by then.

[Which reminds me: Ezra Erker still hasn’t seen his way into reviewing in the Bangkok Post that 11 Thai short stories – 2011 I sent to him first even before publication as an e-book on thaifiction.com at the end of last year.]

And still more: as I told Saneh (see my daughter’s picture below – she was and actually took me there), his Le Seuil editor is slobbering over my unfortunately too short synopsis of his latest long tale, Diao Dai Tai Fa Khlang (Sous un ciel dément)  and would very much like to see my translation into English before she makes up her mind. Oh my! More travaux forcés.

  1. Appreciated from the depths of my whatever reading your description of the pain of editing a translation for someone. And how to convey the “corrections” which is nearly impossible without complete rewriting. And, if you are charging by the hour…then what? Is anybody willing to pay that much money? Maybe better to do it at no charge and then just sue them for “pain and suffering.”

    • Money concerns aren’t on at all here. The ministry pays peanuts and thus gets monkeys. I happen to enjoy a decent salary from Khun Sondhi, so money is of no concern to me for the time being, though this might change soon. What I’m concerned about is good prose, however much effort I put into it. And what pisses me off is that local so-called leading experts can perform so badly.

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