Yes, I’ve been away. For the first time in more than ten years, I took a real holiday – three weeks in France. The pretext was ushering my daughter into a year of study at Université de Toulouse for a second Master’s, in international business law.
As luck had it, this coincided with the last few days of summer and I didn’t suffer from the cold. But it was raining on departure day, as a portent of things to come there. That and an unusual, unexplained, huge traffic jam: I almost missed the flight.
When I say a ‘real’ holiday, I’m exaggerating a bit: true to form, I had taken that translation of Saneh Sangsuk’s Under a demented sky with me to finish while my daughter was still around to enlighten her dumb father about the more intricate subtleties of the Thai language. I hoped to finish that translation before I went to Paris for a few days in mid-trip, hoping to give it to Saneh’s editor at Le Seuil en mains propres, so to speak, but that wasn’t to be. I finished it nonetheless – and 1) rereading the whole text, I’m astonished as ever by the beauty of Saneh’s prose; and 2) there are still things that need ironing out with the author himself.
Trouble is I can’t seem to be able to get in touch with the damn recluse. His phone number has changed, his editor Wiang told me last night, but the new one is off the hook, and his niece’s rings perpetually busy.
Going back to that trip to France, I had an excellent return flight for once, thanks to that magic sleeping pill that had me forget for most of the journey the craving for a fag. Besides, as my daughter insisted on my ‘repatriating’ one of her suitcases for her and as I’m fed up being routinely robbed of sundry items by airport security, I travelled with no cabin luggage at all – and encumbered myself with only a book bought at Roissy. With everyone else huffing and puffing with bulky cabin bags and packs, what a feeling of freedom this gave me! You should try it sometime.
The book was Grisham’s latest. I read some fifty pages of it before the meal and the pill.
Bangkok at 7 in the morning was an ideal 25oC. No queue to speak of at Immigration. Rather than run the gauntlet of multifarious scams at Arrivals, I went to Departure and caught a cab on the fly. He had his radio on, with some Isan muzak as background to our chat.
At the 8 o’clock news, I was in for a shock, though, when I caught three words: Khon Khrae … Seerai.
From which I deducted that the SEA Write Award had been awarded the day before to Khon Khrae (The Dwarf) by Wiphat Seethong (or Vipas Srithong, as he apparently writes his name). How could that be? I’ve reported here (‘Reading the fine print’) what this book is about and what I think of it. If I had to classify the seven novels of the short list, that one would rank sixth (Saneh’s first and Pichetsak’s last).
Yesterday’s Bangkok Post: ‘…the jury … cited the book’s ability to “present the problem of human relationships and reveal the desolation of a group of people who represent the modern society”. Kon Krae also reflects “the absence of the awareness of humanity, the self-obsession over one’s own problems, and the yearning for human relationship while defining the limitations of that relationship”.’
What a load of bull!
I’m glad for the author and for his printer/publisher for the money they’ll make in reprints, since the SEA Write Award label always sells. (Please, Khun Jok, make that paperback a trade book of legible size: it’s bad enough to peddle ersatz stuff without inflicting eye strain on readers.)
But I’ve decided that, if the Bangkok Post asks me, as they have in the past few years, to translate an excerpt of it, I’ll turn them down: I will not dignify with a translation this piece of literary trash.
(Since the author has published poetry of his in English, he can do that himself, no?)