As a paperback, The Dwarf by Wiphat Seethong is superbly produced: an elegant brown-black cover, blackened edges, and a model of binding. Full marks to the printer, Parbpim, whose trade I recommend without reservation. As it happens, I know Parbpim well.
Some three years ago, when I had thaifiction.com refurbished to sell my translations not only as e-books but also as paperbacks published on demand, a mutual friend addressed me to Parbpim, which conveniently happens to be a short motosai ride away from my place. Khun Jok, the youthful looking boss who seems to help out a whole stable of young writers, knew of my work and was eager to be of help. When I insisted that bindings should be at once flexible and strong enough to allow for paperbacks to be opened flat without leaves fleeing the coop, he presented me free of charge with one volume each of five of my translated novels and proved his mettle – adding however: ‘Khun Marcel, these are bound by hand; if you sell quite a few, it’ll have to be done with a machine and I can’t guarantee the same quality.’
I remember telling him then: ‘In other words, Khun Jok, you’re telling me I should sell as few copies as possible, thanks very much.’ Indeed, I sold less than a few: the notion of publishing paperbacks was dropped altogether, against my will (and this is why my website is hemiplegic: the paperback section of each page is frozen).
Meanwhile, Khun Jok has improved his trade: the copy of The Dwarf I bought is obviously not bound by hand but just as good as a hand job.
Two years ago, it was to Parbpim I turned to order five hardback copies of my translation of Kukrit Pramoj’s See Phaendin (Four Reigns) which I am forbidden to commercialise. Again, a superb job, which I was happy to pay for out of my own pocket.
But enough compliments.
This impeccably produced paperback has a major drawback, at least for anyone wearing glasses: it is almost impossible to read because of the Lilliputian print. For Thai characters, 16 points is the standard size (as easy on the eye as 11 or 12 points for farang languages); 14 points is still okay, if a strain, for cheap paperbacks; but this volume is printed in what looks like 12 points or smaller!
I tried a dozen times to tackle the first page and each time after a couple of paragraphs my eyes started to water. After reading six of the seven shortlisted novels for the SEA Write Award this year, I wasn’t going to give up on this one – 440 pages of it to boot.
Last Friday, I went to Central Pinklao in search of some sort of a contraption that would enlarge characters by two or three over a whole page – a magnifying glass I already have, thank you, but try to read a novel that way… An internet search told me that what I was looking for was some sort of Fresnel lens. No such thing for sale here, it seems.
Coming back empty-handed and fuming, I suddenly thought of looking up who the printer of the book was. Parbpim! On the spur of the moment, I hailed a motosai. Khun Jok would be back on Tuesday, but I was made welcome by his staff. I asked whether I could be sent a digital copy of the book I could read on screen or print myself in an enlarged format. I was put in contact by phone with the editor of the book, whose introduction in Thai to this Thai novel begins with a gross insult to English and Roman Stoicism – the following purported quotation from Seneca: ‘Man is something scared to man’! A quick Google search would have told Ai Tong it’s ‘Man is something sacred for man’ (Homo, sacra res homini as a pendent to the more often quoted Homo homini lupus est)…
Anyway, on Tuesday morning I called Khun Jok. He told me to come by his place after six. When I arrived, he handed me a bound, brown-paper-covered trade book-sized volume: The Dwarf in a perfectly readable format he had his guys make just for me! I treated him to a Chinese dinner at the nearby Jade Garden.
This is the volume I’ve been plodding through ever since. And I haven’t stopped crying.