marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘Saneh Sangsuk’

A tale of two friends

In English on 28/03/2017 at 10:34 am

Among the Thai writers I consider my friends, there are two I appreciate especially. One I call Khun Chart, the other Khun Saneh. I’ve translated most of their works. They both live upcountry, the former in Pak Chong, the latter in Phetchaburi. Both are being provided, partly through my good offices, with a French literary agency.
As it happens, on February 24-25, the bosses of that literary agency, Pierre Astier and Laure Pécher, were in town on their way back from China and I was asked to arrange for them and their Langkawi-based local agent, Jérôme Bouchaud, meetings with a few local publishers and authors.
The evening before, over the phone Khun Saneh agreed to take the first bus on the morrow and be in town in late morning to join us in the Khao San Hotel some time past noon. We waited for him way past 2 pm.
He never showed up and hasn’t called since.
When I incidentally mentioned to Khun Chart over the phone that I was about to move to Jomthian, he offered right away to help me move my things. He explained he couldn’t handle packages because of his bad back and thus wouldn’t go all the way to Jomthian with me but he’d come over to my townhouse with a friend driving a van to make sure everything was alright.
He did just that.


And then there were six

In English, Reading matters on 24/07/2014 at 10:15 pm

The SEA Write Award short list is out. Out of fifteen titles, six have survived, one per publishing house, Commoner, Public Opinion, Writer, Die, Domestic Cat and Venturesome (oops! Sorry, wrong track. I mean: Samanchon, Matichon, Writer, Juti, Maeo Barn and PajonPhai). The selection is as expected, give or take a Rewat Panpipat.

Five out of the six collections have stories I find worth translating.

No Sea in Melaka by Jadet Kamjorndet: the first story ‘In small pieces’ will feature in my bilingual blog in two weeks’ time. It’s extra short, and quite unlike the rest of the book, which for some reason looks at the world-to-be … in 2022. Jadet may yet find that there’s no SEA Write in Melaka – until that date?

Rueang-Phom-Lao (Stories-I-tell) by dash-it-all Chamlong Fangchonlachit has the veteran writer at his inveterate best. Never been as much present in his own stories as here; must have to do with the onset of old age, though the Ligor Ovate is only sixty.

Sa-marn Sa-man (Ordinary evil) by Uthis Haemamool, who likes tintinnabulation with his beer: seven of the eight stories here have double-barrelled titles like this one. I’ve already told the author one of his stories about integration (‘Buranakarn Buranakon’) will figure in my end-of-year anthology.

Suea Kin Khon (Tiger eats man) by Sakhorn Phoolsuk. Such an arresting title, don’t you think. I wonder what made him choose it, as none of the eight stories here is thus entitled [PS: This isn’t right: there is a story entitled ‘Tiger eats man at Doolapeur’.]. One of the stories, ‘The woman kite’, I translated soon after its publication in Chor Karrakeit (in 2011 – Eleven Thai short stories). I’m still reading this book and may yet choose some other story from it.

In that same anthology of mine is ‘When I received the Nobel Prize for Literature’ by Boonchit Fakme who now that he is docteur en loi has given up his childishly provocative ways and uses his real name again of Kla Samudavanija [pronounced of course] in Ying Sao Lae Rueang UEn (The young woman and other stories).

And then, there is Asorraphit Lae Rueang UEn UEn (Venom and other stories) by the Janus Bifrons of Thai letters, Saneh Daen-aran Saengthong Sangsuk.

I’m dazed. Because it’s obvious to me I’ll have to translate from it at least two more stories, perhaps three, them being so damn good: ‘Fan Khang’ (The unfinished dream), ‘Methun Sang Yok’ (Sex bonds) and, written ten years ago and over thirty tightly typed pages long, ‘A poem should not mean but be’ – a delightful musing that meanders majestically between an ars poetica and a lethal beating by way of Tagore and fleeting memories of quiet times.

The squint in the third eye

In English, Reading matters on 22/07/2014 at 9:39 pm

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.

blog 10. ดวงตาที่สาม (ปี ๒๕๔๙)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 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.

SEA Write: fifteen hopefuls, one shoo-in

In English, Reading matters on 20/07/2014 at 6:22 pm

The ‘long list’ of contenders for the SEA Write Award, which this year focuses on the short story, was announced two weeks ago. Fifteen titles have been retained from seventy-seven entrants. I found I already had five of those books and was able to buy right away another nine; I’ll be hunting for the remaining one, กล้องเก่า (Klong Kao, The old box or perhaps The old drum The old camera) by Than Yutthachaibodin. To me, always on the lookout for good prose to translate, this is a pile of gold – or silver or small coins. My thanks to the pre-selection committee for sifting through three years’ worth of Thai short stories for me.

That’s upwards of a hundred and sixty stories left to assess in turn.

Including one, one short line long, entitled ‘One day’:

One day that pair of shoes grew roots into the ground.

It’s in Rueang Thammada Ruam Samai (Contemporary ordinary stories) by Jakrapan Kangwan. (No, no, the others are not as bad as this!)

Among the fifteen titles, the cutest is definitely ออกไปข้างใน (Ork Pai Khang Nai) by Nok Paksanawin: Going out inside. Rewat Panpipat’s นัยในนัยน์ (Nai Nai Nai), meaning ‘The meaning in the eye’, is typical of a poet’s love for alliteration, shared by Uthit Haemamool with Sa-marn Sa-man, Ordinary evil.

Some of the usual suspects rounded up this year are former laureates Jadet Kamjorndet, Uthit Haemamool and Rewat Panpipat, as well as also-rans such as Chamlong Fangchonlachit, Sakhon Phoonsuk or Chakrit Phocharueang. They might find themselves short-listed again along with Kla Samudavanija or Notthi Sasiwimon, the latter the only female writer in the list, but this year is one of those years when one book tops all others with la force de l’évidence, as the French say: because it’s bloody obvious.

In 1996, there was Phaendin UEn (Another land) by Kanokphong Songsomphan; in 1999, there was Sing Mi Chiwit Thi Riak Wa Khon (A living thing called man) by Win Lyovarin; in 2011, there was Jadet Kamjorndet’s Daet Chao Ron Keun Kwa Ja Nang Jip Kafae (It’s too hot this morning to sit sipping coffee in the sun); this year, there is Asorraphit Lae Rueang UEn (Venom and other stories) by Daen-aran Saengthong, bkaa (better known abroad as) Saneh Sangsuk.

asorraphit etcBefore I, as his perennial translator, am accused of bias, let me say that: 1) as a rule, I don’t approve of old wine in new bottles: most of these stories were published before, one as far back as over three decades ago; 2) but then, with the exception of the first two stories (one I translated and one I rejected: more on this later), those stories are new to me, which puts paid to the idea (which I shared) that the author would send Barang his work as a matter of course; 3) the flip side of the back cover does me an injustice, not just by misspelling Thai Modern Classics but by stating: ‘Lately, his [Daen-aran’s] novella Diaodai Tai Fa Khlang was published in French [Seule sous un ciel dément – Le Seuil] in early April 2014 and it is hoped the English version will follow soon.’

For the record, Mr Editor Viang: the English version, Under a demented sky, has been on sale as an e-book at and since October 2012. I translated that wonderful novella into English first, as a way to convince Le Seuil to commission the French translation. It took the time it took.

Forget these gripes: the total sum of these twelve stories, with or without reservations, gives a distinct impression of massive literary genius, as so many displays of tightrope writing by a master of language. A bonus is that each story is followed by a ‘post word’ addressed to a mysterious lady friend known only as ‘พ.’ about the conditions or mood or intent in which the piece was written. These short postscripts amount to a reflection on his life and his art. Over the span of a human generation, his writing universe has stretched from the last buffalo to the latest portable phone, from a Greek myth to hordes of Thai-tooled ghosts, often with ramblings through jungles of vines or concrete by monks, mad mothers or misfits, and always with the moon above head, wild animals ready to pounce, and words that sing.

Le nouveau Saneh est tiré

In French, Reading matters on 05/04/2014 at 1:03 pm

seule saneh seuil

Tax clearance

In English, French on 28/08/2013 at 10:55 am

On another front: for the first time in ten years, Le Seuil will publish early next year another book by Saneh Sangsuk, Seule sous un ciel dément, a really gripping story in throbbing prose which I’ve translated into French after translating it into English for them to assess (and incidentally published as an e-book).

French administration has greatly improved with the years: now both author and translator have to show evidence that they pay taxes in the country where they live to avoid being taxed in France. So Thai citizen Saneh Sangsuk was asked to show proof that he pays income tax in Thailand!

And so was Marcel Barang. On 1 August I went to my usual Revenue Department outfit close to the office to ask for a piece of paper stating in English that I do pay income tax here. I had to provide no fewer than eight pages of photocopies of passport, labour permit, income tax ID and income tax receipt – with presentation of the originals, of course. I was told the process took ‘only two weeks usually’ and never ‘no longer than one month’ as per regulation. ‘Leave your phone number, we’ll call you up when it’s ready.’ Curiously, even though all desks are equipped with computers, there was no record in the system of my income tax payments year after year – only of two payments made to me this year by the Ministry of Culture…

Exactly two weeks later, as I happened to be close by, and having received no call, I decided to drop by to see if that piece of paper was ready. Bad timing: I got there at a quarter to lunch. I must have disturbed a dozen well-meaning officials there who might have otherwise be on their way to nearby eateries as it took time to find out who the relevant officer was, that she was out for lunch, to call her back urgently, to find out that yes the form was on that desk there but had yet to be signed, please come back next week.

I was never called, but did retrieve the piece of paper yesterday morning on my way to my former office. It had taken only three weeks. In Singapore, I guess such a taxing exercise would take as long as one hour.

And the cherry on the cake. From L’Équipe, on the course du jour video of the Vuelta a España (it was the same with le Tour de France):

no deal

Une bouffée de jeunesse

In English on 12/06/2013 at 5:31 pm


They came with the rain last night, stayed with the pelting rain and left with the rain as it petered out almost three hours later: Master Siriworn, with family and friends. A breath of youthful air (men and women in their thirties, and the two-year-old son), a shower of laughs and words without malice in a relaxed, rambling, well-watered conversation.

They came with beer in cans and a few snacks I completed with specially bought unsalted almonds and slices of kolbász-like spicy sausage that looks like thin salami and tastes like chorizo. Kosin found it delicious and not at all spicy; but then, he is from Surin … and talks to his big brother Paiwarin in (rhyming?) Khmer when they are alone. He too is a poet, and a draughtsman with a distinctive style, good enough to catch if not the likeness at least the harshness of my face without my posing or even noticing his endeavour (he sat in a corner of the room, to my immediate left). His latest, fifth, volume of poems, published in March, has a title that says it all: This road leads to mummy’s heart.

Siriworn and Rueangkit, editor at their Pajonphai publishing house, were a study in contrast: the latter kept to his corner of the sofa, said few words and didn’t miss a thing; the former was all over the place, with a word or a gesture for everyone and three or four hands to handle his canned beer, riffle through books and take pictures with a real camera (how passé is that): I guess that’s how he gathers material for book covers. Either that or he’s working for the local FBI.

For spiritual consumption, when the six of them piled up into their car on their way to dinner with yet another poet on the other side of the river, they left with my blessings and a few kilos of back issues of the NYRB, LRB and TLS…

I understand it was in a Phra Arthit eatery that Kosin that same night drew this very good portrait of the man with the moustache.

Siriworn by Kosin Khao-ngam

Three days earlier, I’d had another two visitors: the hermit from Phetchaburi in person and his Bangkok good friend. Saneh and Yot were visiting their elders: they had just called on Arjin Panjaphan, 86, and it was my turn… Then too Yot killed time taking pictures of me as we spoke with some portable contraction contraption [thanks, Christopher!], iPhone or some such, which thankfully didn’t flash. It seems to be a virulent occupation among young people these days. I asked Yot why so many pictures; he said it was to keep them for when he writes his memoirs in old age.

Saneh kept apologising he hadn’t brought me a present. I never expect any, and least of all from him who has very little money to live on. (What, however, pleased me very much was Yot’s promise to help me get in touch with writers with little known pen names whose work I keep finding in Chor Karrakeit magazine whose records have allegedly been lost to the 2011 flood.) Nonetheless, Saneh took one of the three or four novels he had bought for himself and gave it to me. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Keep it, I’ve read it, I told him. A moment later, he excused himself and went out. He came back with a bagful of canned milk. I don’t drink this stuff. I forced him to take it with him when he left. It took me some time to figure out why the milk: when they arrived, I’d just finished repainting one of my rocking chairs, Yot asked me if I wore a mask when I painted and, one thing and another, I said that professional painters in France fought paint fumes by drinking milk. Ai Saneh, eui!

For whom the brain tolls

In English on 13/04/2013 at 8:15 pm


I have a quarrel to pick with Chart Korbjitti: it took him a year to let me know in under two thousand words that he had the good luck of a brain infarction.

I’m so pissed off I’ll make this text public on my bilingual blog,, this coming Friday at 00:01 sharp, local time.

I’ve fired him a mail just now to let him know I won’t talk to him again if the next time he dies he doesn’t inform me forthwith, but that in any case I’m his big brother and his pushing in ahead of me is just not on, never mind that he was head of the line in primary (you’ll understand on Friday). Hang on out there.

The other bad news of this Thai New Year, which is bad news in itself given all that senseless splashing about and all those truly dead and maimed on the roads, is that Saneh Sangsuk’s The White Shadow won’t ‘see the light of day States-side’ as I foolishly hoped the other day. I shouldn’t have told ’m Saneh is keyboard-phobic and thus unlikely to produce much and make ’m rich.

Just to pep myself up, here is a boob, not of the Songkran-drenched variety:

Bangkok Post, Monday April 8 2013: Page One story entitled ‘Enraged locals attack cops, foil casino raid’ has them locals pelt them cops ‘with projectiles and scolding water’ – wow, even the water was irate! It isn’t just a typo, as a few paragraphs down we read: ‘Some sprayed extinguishing agents and threw scolding water at the officers.’ Something to scald a proofreader with.

Going cool turkey – 4

In English on 31/03/2013 at 9:54 pm


Fag free? Looks like it. It’s been two weeks since I stopped taking Champix pills after completion of the three-month treatment, and the physical need for nicotine has gone.

What remains is the fancy need – the fleeting thought at odd times of how good it’d be to light up – but that’s easily dismissed, like a pesky insect, like that Juno down the street now that I’m gonad-poor and crumpled, dismissed with a flicker of the brain. Or a sugar-free look om to pacify the lips.

These last few months the downside has been a steady revolting gain in weight.

When I flew back from France last September, I weighed 83 kilos for 1825 mm in height. Six months later, I haven’t grown any taller but I weigh as much as 89,000 grams. In all justice, I can’t blame only Champix or cessation of cigarette consumption for those extra six kilos of lard: during that time I’ve been unusually sedentary due to excessive working sessions on the one hand, and on the other a growing incapacity to … simply … walk any longer – believe you me: of three years’ standing.

In the last few weeks, after a particularly painful ordeal in the street that had me mincing steps like a nonagenarian afflicted with delirium tremens, I’ve been consulting with one fake (Dr Amnuay) and two true (Dr Charoen and Dr Manoj) specialists of bone and nerve and cartilage messes and if I’m for the moment mobile and full of pep, it’s because of pills gobbled morning, noon and night this week and the next at Dr Manoj’s whim come what may.

You’d better believe it: I did extensive laundry by hand this very morning and even ironed no fewer than three shirts this afternoon in splendid heat. The last time I forced myself to wash a few clothes – two weeks ago, it was – I had to fetch myself a stool as my haunches refused to give a hand and lit up flares in protest.

The overwhelming feeling at the moment is of distress, or should I say désarroi: I’m an able-bodied man everyone says looks ten years younger than his real age without even trying – and also feel like it most days, damn your eyes – and yet what’s happening inside that wholesome body belongs to the terminal stage. Did I tell you about high blood pressure? And those feet and ankles that keep inflating when I worship the digital lares a tad too long? How boring can I be?

On the plus side: it looks like Saneh Sangsuk’s masterpiece The White Shadow might see the light of day States-side. Just because a butterfly once flexed its wings in the Amazon and many years ago I partook of Korean food with – but hush! What was that, Leonard, about ‘spiritual thirst’?

There’s Diaodai Tai Fa Khlang two-thirds trussed into French on my screen, and Le Seuil has yet to send contracts for it: I checked this very day with the main recipient. Please, please, please, may all things fall into place for once, ma chère Anne,

and I’ll go and have dinner now and be content.

Burglary in Pak Chong

In Uncategorized on 27/02/2013 at 10:53 pm

It seems I’ve developed tunnel vision in life: when I get into gear over some lengthy written undertaking, there’s no life outside that work tunnel, no sparkle beyond the computer screen, no women in poetry, no neighbours to chat with. Hence the 22,000 words I translated from the Thai in the past couple of weeks to help out an academic friend, leaving me time only for feed and foodstuff shopping, income tax filing, plant watering every other day, and semi-catatonic nightly stays in front of screened inanities, waiting for pastis to lull me to sleep. A sure recipe for disaster, but heck, give me a break, I still go without smoking – just fuming, okay?

Next are the 65,000 words of translation into English of a Thai novel I must check against the original and make to sound native.

And after that, lo and behold, I’m commissioned to render into French Saneh Sangsuk’s latest masterpiece: it took only five months since Le Seuil got from me Lonely under a demented sky for them to give me the green light for Seule sous un ciel dément.

And in between, of course, the two stories a month for the bilingual blog whose authors I have such a hard time contacting more often than not.

If I don’t post here now, then when? So, here goes.

Chart Korbjitti has long given up imagination and invention as literary engines. For years since his masterly Time fireworks display, his pen has been running on sheer reality, things that happen to him. And he has lost none of his verve.

The story he just wrote and sent a gaggle of groupies beside me the other day is not a flight of fancy: entitled ‘Thief – cops – homeowners’, it tells how his house was burglarised ‘last month’ while his back was turned.

Actually, his house wasn’t burglarised: his kitchen (a separate building) was. Coming from behind, the clueless or hurried thief broke a window when he could have opened the front door which wasn’t locked. He helped himself to pricey foodstuffs in the freezer you wouldn’t think an unassuming man like Chart would stock up yet duly records while leaving out of his 5,000-word account that bottle of apéritif I left there years ago I’m sure was still for the taking given that pastis has the smell and taste of a laxative as popular with Thai children as cod liver oil was with us kids in my days.

The burglary, a first since Chart and Soi settled down there twenty years ago, only happened because Chart was Thai-fashion foolish. You see, he was late coming back from Bangkok where he had gone to get a cell phone (given by a friend sometime earlier) reprogrammed and it turned out that phone must have fallen from the back of a lorry, so the operation to, as it were, launder it took longer than expected. Chart had no real use for that phone, but out of gratitude for that generous friend he had to get it fixed. In Thai, it’s called krengjai.

Tough luck.

Besides, the burglar is known to all – a petty thief beyond redemption living a coconut throw away on temple grounds with the unhappy and powerless blessings of the abbot – but he cannot be arrested, even though evidence piles up against him, thanks to a cadastral conundrum. Chart’s manor (how else to call an abode accessed through a suspension bridge with a stream feeding a swimming pool and other frills?) is set at the exact meeting point of three provinces in the hills of Pak Chong, two hours’ drive or so northeast of Bangkok. As with states in the US or as with districts in Bangkok, cops from one province don’t want to know what goes on in the next. The two police officers who come to investigate hail from the same province as the thief, whom they know well, but if Chart wants the police to intervene over such a, frankly, sir, petty larceny, he should go and waste half a day reporting the matter at another province’s main town whose cops, frankly, sir, have better things to do anyway. But what if the cat burglar is caught at it in the weekend villa in the right province next to Chart’s abode?

Ah well, I wouldn’t want to give away the whole plot. Suffice it to say I emailed Chart I’ll definitely translate that snapshot of what a certain rural Thailand is all about, but not just now.

PS: This morning in the mail, publisher Siriworn Kaewkan for the third time sends me a copy of Siriworn Kaewkan’s A weird world in the history of sadness, as well as [sic] Color of the Dog by Chamlong Fungcholjitr [I love those zany transliterations: it’s pronounced jam.long, thank you].