Last Thursday I attended, at the Sirikit convention centre where a national book fair was in full swing, the launch of the Ministry of Culture’s Eternally Love and Friendship Thai-Lao, a hefty anthology of short stories and poems in three languages … plus Latin place-holding material (don’t ask). I’m sure the Lao and Thai sections are perfect, but as the title shows, the English section is in a sorry state. If much of it was properly edited by Prof Ora-Ong Chakorn (I contributed three translations of Thai short stories), the Lao stories and poems weren’t edited at all. And it hurts. Here are the first sentences of these stories:
A man stood beside road N.6,section from Naxou to Longchaeng.
If gods are really existed, they should be irritated with Phouvanh scolding.
The house of mine is situated in front of a forest pagoda.
I poured most of the bottle of beer into my glass, lifted it, and drank slowly.
Twenty years passed. Dongphileo is a secretive jungle to me.
And on the poetry side there are things like:
A lot of poverty is still gloomy | Sheltered the lives in remote areas
A new big clock is hanged on the wall
My uncles! Poverty is not fallen from the sky! [This from a poem suitably entitled ‘Party Direction for Development People Contributed with Combined Heart’.]
May I live with you with side by side | Until I pass away, I’d live closely with your side
Open your minds widely as the planet be | Sharing loves sharing hopes to everybody
Old saying work without design don’t start it [in ‘New Village Should be Nearly the City’]
This paddy rice field is very lovely
Miss Sopha lived in a village nearby a mountain | She’s known how to weave silk tissue when youngster
The nipples of my mother are nice looking [ah, finally, some good, emotive English!]
What a shame for a collective work that reportedly took ten years to make and whose 2000 copies will be distributed in school and university libraries for the most part.
The good news on that day, however, was hot-off-the-presses copies of another anthology and three novels to which I have contributed in the past couple of years for the ministry.
Anthology of Thai Short Stories since the 1930s by 41 Thai Writers I highly recommend you get a copy of from the ministry’s OCAC office. I contributed a final round of editing to it and, although I had no access to the final layout (more on this in a minute), here are nearly 700 pages of almost good to very good short stories, one per writer, in readable English.
The three novels are The Moonlit Shore by Prachakom Lunachai, Grey Skies over Plai Na by Wat Wanlayangkul and Chabon by Thirayut Daochanthuek. I edited the first two – the former on life at sea, the latter on village shenanigans. Twenty years ago, when I established my list of the 20 best Thai novels, they were in the batch of five ‘almost ran’.
Since Thursday I’ve taken the time to read Chabon in its entirety, and I know why I discarded it: quite simply, the life of an old man in the mountains, the last chao bon (i.e. man up there, man of the hills), is boring and rather depressing in the end with its message of failed idealism. Thirayut Daochanthuek (currently a monk) is no Cormac McCarthy and this is not The Road. The translation reads well and is probably faithful but it could have been better edited: as I read along I found dozens of misprints, boobs and prissy blunders (an old man in the boondocks does not ‘urinate’, he pees, sir!), rashes of uncalled-for italics (yet absent when needed), fanciful transliteration, and a punctuation that is neither fish nor fowl, neither Brit nor Yank, a mixture of ellipses and N-dashes. Methinks the editor, Michael Crabtree, is either Ozzie or Kiwi or Boer or none of the above. (27-year-old American football player, Google has him!)
All five books are beautifully produced except for two things: unwieldy, substandard binding and not quite professional text layout. Regarding the two novels I edited, my explanations and instructions regarding how to get rid of widows and orphans (one-liners at bottom and top of pages) and how to even out lines were ignored – and orphans and widows and stretched lines there are aplenty, as in the other three volumes, the more’s the pity.
Curiously, the well-fed credit page bears no mention of any printer. Given the brutal binding and overall quality of the product, I’d say it’s Amarin Printing.