marcel barang

Reading notes 2/4

In English, Reading matters on 04/10/2018 at 5:10 pm

mudThe house in the mud

[Ban Nai Klon – Kittisak Kachen]

[บ้านในโคลน โดย กิติศักดิ์ คเชนทร์]


Fancy that: the editor’s foreword tells us that he had the author, whom he calls dek num (28 years old when they first met in 2012), rewrite the book three times before he felt it worth publishing in 2016.

And indeed the book reads like one of that hoary editor’s short stories, times 50 (the number of chapters): nicely written with uncomplicated words or turns of phrase, one joy of yore at a time, hence easy to read and easy to forget.

The pretext here is the family house caught in a killer mudslide in 1988, when the author was four and lived with his paternal grandparents. But the mudslide only happens in the last third of the book, the first two being your average rosy family cum childhood tale, which tries to do for the South what Kampoon Boontawee did for Isan forty years ago with A Child of the Northeast.

Last year, this autobiographical novel only managed an “honourable mention” from some Office of Basic Education. Yet not a word since then on the net. Why exhume it now? Just for the thirtieth anniversary of the mudslide?

Jomthian – 20.09.18


trappedTrapped and surrounded

[Nai Kapdak Laeh Klang Wong Lom – Prachakom Lunachai]

[ในกับดักและกลางวงล้อม โดย ประชาคม ลุนาชัย]


This realistic novel with an uninspired title is vantage Prachakom – past his prime. For the fourth time, this savvy author has drawn on his hard-earned experience in his younger days as a seaman on board infamous Thai trawlers. I read his previous novels and liked one so much – Khon Kham Fan (2000) – I started translating it into French and wrote its synopsis, but it has found no publisher. (More recently, I also edited the English translation of Fang Saeng Jan (The Moonlit Shore, 2011.)

This one, however, has disappointed me. The plot is at fault. It deals with two dozen young drifters, mostly North-easterners, being inveigled, never mind the odd missing eye, leg or fingers, into manning a cast-net trawler. The time is thirty years ago, way before the cell phone plague.

The first three outings, over ten days or so, bring no catch. When the on-board radar at last signals a huge school of fish, a shark tears up the net and almost all of the catch vanishes. This does not really make for an exciting first hundred pages.

The fate of the trawler will change for the better when it gets permission to enter Malaysian waters and the Java Sea. All along another two hundred pages there is plenty of strife among crew members but handling so many characters turns into a burden of sorts for both author and reader, while much of the book feels like a didactic exposé of all the tricks and hardships of life at sea, up to the last dozens of pages when, after fourteen months, the trawler is belatedly grounded and the crew wonders and worries whether they are going to get paid at all – that they are, eventually, comes as an anti-climax.

All of this lacks the pizazz of previous novels which focused on a single character or on just a few dealing with more life-and-death situations.

As it is, however, the writing is fluent, there is plenty of human warmth, and it remains a good read for those who, unlike me, aren’t acquainted with the previous novels.

Jomthian – 26.09.18

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