It’s this time of year again: the long list of the SEA Write Award 2012 is out. Fifteen novels are in competition out of what? perhaps a hundred, mostly published in the last few months, although the prize is supposed to bless a novel published as far back as three years ago.
And lo and behold, the eternal second of the prize – poet, short story writer, novelist, philosopher, publisher, Asia-trotter, womaniser, bon-vivant and father of one Siriworn Kaewkan – has the distinction of being the only one with two books in this pre-selection. So he’ll lose the prize twice this year.
I may or may not have read his other one about a doll mender using acacia, but his Strange world in the history of sadness isn’t going to make the grade. Having previously translated his first two novels, I read the first version as soon as it was out and thought it was too dull a mess excusable only by the vagaries of his vagabond life. When he told me over a memorable southern fare dinner that he was intent on rewriting it I begged him to desist and start on a new project. Of course he persisted and a couple of months ago sent me the new version. I flipped through it, couldn’t see much change to it and concluded the cover was its best feature.
On the other hand, there are some well-known contenders in that list: a recent SEA Write winner, Uthis Hemamool, Panu Trivej (pronounced ‘trai.weit’) and the once black sheep of the Thai literary family, Daen-aran Saengthong better known abroad under his real name, Saneh Sangsuk. As recorded here, I was so taken by his Diaodai Tai Fa Khlang (Lonely under a demented sky) that I offered a synopsis to Le Seuil, who replied they’d like to see the complete English version, so I dutifully started on that in my spare time.
I went as far as the first twenty pages but Immigration and Labour Department connived to cut short my effort, only to be seconded a week or two later by the Ministry of Culture: just as I was recovering from heavy doses of bureaucratise, the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture asked me to translate three short stories.
Once I am through with those, I’ll go back to that tumultuous affair of demented motherly love as only the author of Venom can pen.
As it turns out, one of the three short stories is ‘The three-eyed boy who happened to fall down to Earth’ by Mahannop Chomchalao, which I am now translating with great pleasure: there is much finesse in his quietly ironic writing. Since his Nai Om Kort Ka-lee (In Kali’s embrace) is one of the fifteen books selected I’ll make sure I get a copy.
For the rest, I’ll wait until the short list later this month, lah, and meanwhile watch le Tour de France – it’s that time of the year too.