In my previous post, I mentioned that I turned down one of Saneh Sangsuk’s stories present in his current anthology. That’s Duang Ta Thee Sam, ‘The third eye’, which runs over sixty tight pages, even longer than the famed ‘Venom’ which opens the book.
The main reason I wouldn’t translate it is that I consider it psychologically unsound. The plot is simple: a blind young woman about to recover her eyesight must, upon seeing for the first time the cripple she has fallen in love with and who has paid for her operation, decide within the next minute whether to marry him or not. The man turns out to be hideous and this is when the story goes sour: the first reaction of the woman is unmitigated disgust until she catches her breath and, ‘looking at him with her third eye as it were’, finds him morally handsome and thus, without further ado, is now eager to marry him. Of course, there’s a further twist to the story, one that comes … from New York’s Grand Central Station via Hua Lamphong!
In his postscript, the author explains that ‘the real model of “The third eye” is “Appointment with love” by Utsana Phleungtham … and even though a foreign friend told me that he seemed to have heard a similar story being hauled over the coals somewhere or other in English, I still hold “Appointment with love” as my model’.
The ‘foreign friend’ is me, and I was a lot more specific than that.
I told Saneh that Utsana Phleungtham had shamelessly plagiarised a story written by an American writer. I had stumbled on the original story by chance as I trawled the net for copyright-free stories to translate into Thai (as part of the wanakam.com project to train Thai translators) but at the time I spoke to Saneh I no longer had a copy of it; of course, his being inspired by Utsana’s story didn’t mean he should be blamed at all for the latter’s fraud, but the association was unfortunate.
This time around, the muddled information Saneh provides has annoyed me enough to search the net anew for the original story – and I found it easily enough: it is something of a cause célèbre. So what I’ll do is this: this coming Thursday night, at one minute past midnight as usual, I’ll publish on my bilingual blog of Thai short stories both the original American story and Utsana Phleungtham’s version (in my translation) to show the extent of plagiarism practised. (Sorry: the format of the blog doesn’t really allow for display of the Thai text as well.)
Utsana Phleungtham is best known for his erotic novel The story of Jan Darra. He belonged to the Kukrit Pramoj generation of writers who thought nothing of ‘borrowing’ plots for short stories or novels from successful foreign writers. But this is outright theft and it begs the question of how many stories Utsana pilfered and appropriated in his quality as a translator from the English – I wager ‘Appointment with love’ wasn’t the only one. Methinks the nosey NCPO should look into this too.