marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘SEA Write Award’

Fond de tiroir

In French, Reading matters on 14/06/2017 at 4:05 pm

C’était il y a déjà longtemps. Pour tuer le temps qu’il me reste à vivre, j’avais entrepris de traduire l’impossible, de chic et en français : le texte lyrique, obscur de sens, médiéval de musique, d’une histoire très belle primée SEA Write Award en 1991,  Djao Djane Pom Hom, le pèlerinage en jungle birmane d’une princesse sommée de choisir entre barbon cossu et bel aimé fauché, d’un magicien du verbe qui a mal tourné (il a mis sa plume au service de l’horreur juvénile), Mala Kamchan [prononcé kam.djane]. J’ai tenu douze cents mots, sur bien des heures. Ces mots, je les retrouve et, avant qu’ils ne se perdent, les voici.

Gente Djane aux cheveux capiteux | Mala Kamchan

Pèlerinage aux reliques d’Indra du Rocher d’Or

La lune, déjà, a chue. Les étoiles rivalisent de lueurs blanches scintillantes telles des bris de verre sertis dans un immense canevas noir, clignotantes, étincelantes, à la lumière vive ou chiche, proche ou lointaine ; certaines froides au point de sembler frigides ; d’autres palpitant telles des astres grands et petits flirtant à qui mieux mieux, tout-sourire ; d’autres encore du blanc brillant des yeux de la jouvencelle qui, cachée derrière sa maman, en douce lorgne son promis. Certaines étoiles de grand âge qui ont le grisé de la cendre sont là aussi.

Transi, un oiseau trille. Le vent nocturne effleure la forêt d’un bruissement puissant. La jungle résonne dans le noir intense. Les premières lueurs de l’aube qui vont colorier le ciel sont encore loin. L’oisillon doit avoir bien froid qui réclame l’étreinte de sa mère, disant Mère, oh, mère, j’ai trop froid ; prends-moi tout contre toi.

La jungle est immense et dense. Le rugissement menaçant d’un tigre se fait entendre, loin, proche, comme s’il rôdait, déguisé en homme pour venir marauder, et puis repartant en traînant une proie humaine. Un courlis lance son bruyant « cour-lis » « cour-lis », appel glacial à faire dresser les cheveux sur les têtes, et le prolonge en toute indifférence. Les vieillards chenus, poil blanc et peau craquelée, expli­quent que, quand le courlis chante, le tigre est en chemin.

Prier… Humblement, paumes jointes, je prie.

Il y a comme la scansion d’un hommage au maître, la strophe qui le glorifie comme maître dans les trois mondes. L’immense et dense jungle, la masse boisée couvrant une vaste surface résonne d’un incessant concert a capella de sauterelles, de crapauds de ruisseau en réponse aux grenouilles de roche qui se font entendre depuis de lointains points d’eau. Au profond de la nuit les hommes dorment. Le bruit de versets implorants, clairs et inusités, s’insère entre le bruit de feuilles qui tombent, le bruit d’un cerf qui broute. Il y a comme un hoquet, comme si le cerf suffoquait dans son sang. Le tigre du Bengale, le tigre jaune, le tigre aux rayures du gris des nuages, le grand tigre a sans doute déjà le cou du cerf dans sa gueule.

Froid ! Il fait si froid ! Comme on se sent seul loin de chez soi ! La jungle impénétrable est toujours plongée dans le noir total. De loin provient la mélopée d’un poème chanté. Qui donc chante ainsi en pleine nuit ? Chante d’une voix grave, insistante et froide au milieu de la jungle séculaire.

Froid, oh si froid, sous le vent du cinquième mois
Gourde de froid, la poitrine brûle de douleur
Froid de brume, froid de brouillard, coups de vent
Un froid glacial bat la forêt
Le froid de la chair n’est rien comparé au froid du cœur
Contre le froid de l’air on peut toujours se calfeutrer
Le froid intérieur, nulle couverture ne le peut conjurer

Des feulements de tigre retentissent d’une vallée lointaine. Les insectes chanteurs de la jungle ferment leurs becs menus. Les grillons et les grillons-taupes feignent de dormir et prêtent l’oreille. Dès que la rumeur du tigre cesse, ils se remettent à chuchoter puis s’enhardissent et bientôt reprennent leur vacarme, chantant et claquant des élytres comme s’ils donnaient des ordres ou prenaient congé. En fin de nuit les étoiles s’endorment. Le jasmin qui s’ouvre exhale un parfum doux. La déesse Aube et son fils Petit Matin vont arriver, le Soleil prince du ciel va darder ses rayons. Aussi les insectes chanteurs, adorables, prennent-ils congé à regret.

Froid ! Il fait si froid !

Là-bas, de petites lucioles allument leurs feux arrière, projecteurs en pleine jungle fouillant profond, clignant ici, clignant là, s’éteignant d’un coup, d’un coup reparaissant comme des étoiles filantes à ras du sol. Une luciole esseulée vole à l’écart comme en quête de partenaire, comme exilée de la nuée de ses congénères au sein de la jungle drue. Quand s’entend un battement d’ailes étouffé, la petite luciole s’éteint. Un engoulevent a dû frapper ses ailes d’un coup de bec et la gober.

La semence d’étoiles dans le ciel illumine
Transi de froid en pleine jungle, perpétuel vagabond
Errant à ras d’herbe à devenir fou
Loin de ma mie, mon amour

Qui donc, mais qui donc au juste vient chanter, scander et danser ce menuet de la jungle en pleine nuit ainsi ? Le son clair et froid pénètre toute la contrée. La voix glacée tremble comme si elle allait dévorer la chair au fond de la poitrine. Le vent tombe comme si les arbres se taisaient pour mieux écouter la voix déprimée de l’homme transi. La voix tremblante et appuyée interfère avec un appel d’éléphant, un éléphant sauvage dont le barrissement puissant retentit d’un fin fond de vallée reculée. Les éléphants domestiques soufflent bruyamment par la trompe, puis barrissent à leur tour de façon assourdissante. Cinq éléphants domestiques tête basse se glissent sous la vaste enceinte de roseaux. Cliquetis des chaînes qui les retiennent, voix des cornacs qui les retiennent. Au bout d’un moment un feu s’allume. Bourdonnements de voix d’hommes qui discutent, voix tremblant de froid insolite, cris des grillons et des grillons-taupes. Allongée, elle ne dort pas.

Le feu ose de grandes flammes qui ploient, s’étirent et rampent comme un motif de rouleau manuscrit qu’un ingénieux cornac aurait ciselé. Une étoile brille de vive lumière telle l’étoile du matin comme pour forcer les autres, honteuses, à quitter le ciel. Cette étoile jette un sort de lumière sur la chaîne de montagne qui s’étire au fin bout de l’horizon, là-bas, une chaîne de montagne sinueuse comme un serpent géant mystérieux, totalement noir, gisant sans bouger. En terre étrangère dans cette direction se trouve le Rocher d’Or d’Indra, que malheureusement la forêt et la houle des collines empêchent de voir. L’esprit le voit, mais point les yeux.

L’obscurité à ce moment-là, au sein du brouillard froid et blanc qui enveloppe de morosité la jungle dense, aux tons de discussion feutrés se substitue un chant du Nord dans l’obscurité d’avant l’aube.

Écoute, le cygne là-haut vole, le paon gracieux ici vient

Le monde élancé des fleurs de goyave, écoute bien
[…5 lignes]

La voix qui chante s’éloigne. Les paroles font référence à Totsakan, le géant de Ceylan aux dix têtes doté d’une pléthore de pouvoirs maléfiques, parti ravir Dame Sida au prince Rama, ancêtre du futur Bouddha.

Le brouillard est toujours épais, la jungle toujours dense. En bordure de l’étroit passage dans la rangée d’arbres, on peut discerner des cornacs et des gardes nourrissant le feu qui devient brasier. Cette lumière dansante au cœur de la vaste jungle transie semble fort étrange. Les abris forestiers petits et grands sont côte à côte. On dirait que les marchands de la ville sont venus camper, à ceci près qu’il y en a trop, contigus, étagés. On dirait que Son Altesse est de sortie pour une nuit en forêt.

Le feu éclaire l’éléphant favori aux défenses sciées sous le feuillage de grands arbres. Le feu éclaire deux pavillons. Un instant elle regarde le pavillon de gauche, l’instant suivant le pavillon de droite. En toile de fond, la jungle arc-boutée, l’obscurité régnant sur un espace immense.

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Heart condition

In English, Reading matters on 01/10/2013 at 2:31 pm

angkarn heartsfifthchamberThat Angkarn Chanthathip [pronounced jan.tha.thip, of course] was awarded this year’s SEA Write Award with his collection of poems The heart’s fifth chamber is old news. Instantly, the book is everywhere: I bought my copy in a Bang Saen supermarket.

Angkarn’s poetry is way beyond my ability to translate, but the temptation remains. So, this morning, taking advantage of a few rare hours of sun, I did the fortnight’s laundry (now finishing drying indoors as it’s started to rain again) and sweated over one of the shortest poems, which happens to bear the same title as the collection. I’m sure the original is much richer, but my heart has only four ventricles.

The heart’s fifth chamber – Angkarn Chanthathip

Deep valley, homestead, flowing river
Skyline a fence climbing up to clouds white
Clad with peaks stretching out in a long chain
A sparkling mass whose arms hug the land

The heart dreams of peace
Amidst sorrow and ceaselessly rampant fire
Life percolates slowly and knows how to hear
Love and hope like rain poured to douse the heat

Deep valley rug, homestead, flowing river
The heart pining for ancient dreams
Earth and sky and caring
Such is the native land, the home of yesteryear
Such is the native land, the home of yesteryear

‘Hua Jai Hong Thee Ha’ | Pai – Mae Hong Son | Lent 2007

Pity poor Siriworn

In English, Reading matters on 03/07/2013 at 8:41 pm

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siriworn berlinwallbangkokOut of the 101 Thai collections of poems competing this year for the SEA Write Award, the 18-strong pre-selection just announced ignores Siriworn Kaewkan’s Berlin Wall in Bangkok superb offering. Since the prize was devised in 1979, the man holds the absolute record of far and near misses, be it for poems, short stories or novels.

But then, what was he thinking? A title like this, merely two years after the bamboo-and-tyre danse du feu in downtown Bangkok when ashes blister the carpet, ambers are still glowing and nobody appears to be the wiser, amounts to a provocation. Or does it? You be the judge. Here is the main chant.

The Berlin Wall in downtown Bangkok (1)

Barbed wire fence and concrete wall
Popped up in downtown Berlin
Dividing wind and sunshine in Germany
Dividing sunshine and wind in the twentieth century
Turning an ideal concrete
Penning a people, cleaving them in two
A proud communist government
Put Rousseau’s saying to good use
Man is born free
And everywhere he is in chains

Fog and flowers
Were turned into criminal daydreams
Idealism and class consciousness
Became sacred truths
Citizens became forbidden scriptures
Even God could not mess with

Man is born in chains
So the world over seeks freedom
Some groups thus turned to planting flowers
To sell to those men on watchtowers
To worship all godly proctors
For them not to fall into hardship
For them not to fall from on high
And turn commoners cursed with planting flowers

Fog and flowers
Criminal daydreams of the twentieth century
When the Berlin Wall in Germany
Was smashed to pieces
The world saw the truth on the other side of the wall
Idealism and class consciousness
The dream of sacred truths
Became even more of a daydream

Slowly took shape in downtown Bangkok
The Berlin Wall of the twenty-first century
Dividing sunshine and wind in the Chao Phraya basin
Dividing darkness and light in our hearts

With one brick per man
Piled up on a foundation of hate
With one brick per man
Piled up on insanity
Nobody asked since when a wall was needed to get rid of classes

Known to all and plain to see
Man consents to keep churning power
Man consents to keep making mistakes
To write his own history
Even though he knows that ahead
When the wall is smashed
On the other side the truth stares at us*

* Adapted from a saying by Harold Pinter about a writer’s duty to smash mirrors.

The Berlin Wall in downtown Bangkok (2)

A good thing it is
We have yet another year to live
Too bad many people don’t have this minute to savour
Life is something marvellous
But love is even more so

A good thing it is
We have yet another year to live
Too bad many people don’t have this minute to savour
Dreaming is something marvellous
But reality is even more so

A good thing it is
We have yet another year to live
Too bad we are zanily snatching at light and shadow
Just in hopes of reaching a truer truth

A good thing it is
We have yet another year to live
What a shame we died off the Berlin Wall
That cropped up over smoke and flames
In downtown Bangkok

On Thai visa extension and other forms of torture – 1

In English on 01/06/2013 at 12:44 pm

Yes, my visa and labour permit have been extended for another year – one day past the deadline. And it was no walk in the park. This is how it went.

Thu 23: I pick up the Ministry of Culture’s jotmai rap-rong (certificate) stating that I’m employed by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), which is the main document I need to present for extension of visa and labour permit before both expire on May 30.

Fri 24: I discover in the morning at Siriraj hospital that yes, I can see my usual doctor, but no, I can’t have a doctor’s certificate for the Ministry of Labour because today is a Buddhist holiday. Come back on Monday.

Mon 27: early rise (i.e. not much sleep). At Siriraj before 8am. I queue up to get my personal file, go to the fourth floor, where the action is, register, go up and down floors for: 1) a blood test for syphilis only; 2) an x-ray of the lungs. By 9am, this is done. Results, I’m told, at 11am. Or later. The middle-aged male doctor who is going to certify that I’m sane and not socially repellent takes my pulse and prods me with a stethoscope. When I come out of Siriraj with the bleeding bai rap-rong phaet, it’s a quarter to twelve.

Tue 28: very early rise (i.e. not much sleep). Taxi over the 39km separating my house and Government Centre, where Immigration is these days. This takes one hour and twenty minutes. Sometime after 9am, I’m number 36 queuing up at N1 counter (diplomats and state employees). One hour later, I’m told the ministry’s certificate is inadequate: it gives no indication of duration of employment. ‘Go back to the ministry and have this added to the letter.’ So back to the ministry. The problem is simple: last year, the same certificate mentioned the then-coming fiscal year; this time, as the fiscal year ends on Sept 30, the young man preparing the letter for me kindly thought that if that FY was mentioned, I might only be granted four months… The problem is simple, but the solution is problematic: whatever the wording, the certificate needs to be signed again by none other than the director general of the ministry, and this TAKES TIME. Will two days be enough? The agreement with the staff at OCAC is for me to wait at home to be told that the certificate is ready. If no word tomorrow (Wed 29), then I’ll go to the ministry first thing in the morning on the last day and wait there until the certificate comes through. For some reason, this piece of paper is not signed by the readily available head of OCAC, as it was last year, but by the director general of the ministry himself…

Wed 29: I spend a nerve-racking day alternating translation of a short story about a chest of drawers and reading of French crime novels on the iPad. When in late afternoon I call OCAC, I learn they’ve all gone to a cultural function. The phone number I’m given for the young man processing the certificate doesn’t work; I leave a message to my usual contact at OCAC for her or the young man to ring me back. You guessed it: no call back.

Thu 30: asleep at 1am. Wake up at 4am. Get up at 5am. At the ministry at 8am. The personnel dribble in at leisure in the next hour. 9am: the young man says he has just gone by the DG’s office and impressed them on the need to deliver that certificate this morning. I sit unobtrusively in an inner corridor. I’m brought a glass of water, then a cup of coffee. Sometime after 10:30am, the word is the director general wants to see me. We have a pleasant chat while he signs the damn pieces of paper, which still need to be registered. I get them at 10:40am. Taxi to Immigration. A miracle takes place: the traffic is light; the 35.5km are covered in only 50mn! At 11:30am, I’m number 117 at the N1 section. I learn that after 12am, no applications are accepted. Between 12am and 1pm, the place is vacated. Before that, I’ve had some Thai food downstairs; I while away the time reading Jadet Kamjorndet’s latest novel, Prathet Mue Song (Second-hand country), which I found in the mail yesterday along with three volumes of poetry sent by good old Siriworn Kaewkan – the SEA Write must be on poetry this year, then. I’m still worried about making it on time to the Labour Ministry, but heck, the visa is what matters most. It gets close to 2pm when my number is called. And when things go wrong again.

A new birth and its pangs

In English, Reading matters on 13/12/2012 at 8:43 pm

12ssIt took some time, but I finally managed to get in touch with all twelve authors [Correction: all but one; read on.] and to overcome a last computer hassle so that, as of this morning, 12 Thai short stories – 2012 is up for sale on thaifiction.com as a PDF e-book for 200 baht – or 4.99 euros when it comes on sale at immatériel.fr as well.

(A friend says PDFs can be downloaded and read without fuss on Kindle Fire tablets. If this is true, no need for e-pubs, which are a calamity to produce individually.)

This latest book is the fourth in a series of collections of short stories I translate during a given year (quite apart from the two dozen published each year on the bilingual blog). Occasionally, I get asked how long I intend to get the series going. The tongue-in-cheek answer is I might have a problem gathering as many as fifty in the year 2050 – by which time I hope I’ll long be dead.

The reality, though, is that it might be much, much earlier than that: I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find good fiction to translate. I’m down to scouring the back issues of Chor Karrakeit, which used to offer forty to fifty stories a year of various quality or interest. I’m more than half way through existing issues and may yet find two dozen stories worth translating. A few anthologies, put together by the Thai Ministry of Culture and other literary circles, also provide good ‘fodder’. When, every three years, the SEA Write Award deals with short stories, their short list is useful to go through the top of the crop and take my pick. I may buy the odd collection of short stories (or the odd novel) on a whim and a few writers send me their works either as books or as digital files, which I prefer, but it would take subscriptions to dozens of newspapers and magazines to keep abreast of current publication of short fiction and the end result wouldn’t justify the outlay.

Regarding those stories I find in Chor Karrakeit, I’m now faced with a further, vexing problem, which is contacting their authors: most of them are country writers that happen to have written a story that caught my eye and I wish to get known through translation – I have no idea who they are and wouldn’t disturb them if courtesy and the law didn’t oblige me to do so: in the case of a mere translation, to ask them for permission to ‘translate’, always post facto; in the case of the bilingual blog, to ask them for permission to not only translate but republish their Thai story.

Whenever I have managed to contact authors, all of them, with no exception, have been delighted to get translated and republished, something that warms the cockles of my heart, especially as I can offer them nothing in exchange except the pride of seeing their work in print in farang lingo.

Last year, during the floods, I asked a friend of mine helping Suchart Sawatsi, the erstwhile editor of Chor Karrakeit, to help me contact about half a dozen of the review’s contributors. This was done in no time. This year, I asked the same friend to help me contact three Chor Karrakeit writers, one for the short story collection, the other two for the pieces I’m planning to publish on the bilingual blog tonight and two weeks from now. Somehow, Suchart now claims all admin records were lost in last year’s floods.

Since then, I’ve found out that Thongchai Phandee, featured in the yearly collection, is the author of a crime novel published sixteen years ago. Two Facebook messages have remained unacknowledged. Too bad: in a case like this, silence is consent.

But what of Chomphookhanit Patthamadilok and Samut Nuamsetthee? The first is unknown on the net, except for that one story I chose and a few books in Thai that lead nowhere. No picture of her either, nor of the second, who is a rare beast: a successful TV movie director with no footprint on the net other than the couple of TV soaps he’s made recently, one of which actually got an award. I’ve alerted his work unit, left a message with the award-bestowing outfit, disturbed staffers in two Thai newspapers, all to no avail. All of this on top of my current predicament with WordPress (see previous postings) and health concerns.

I have no choice: the next three pieces in the pipeline also need legwork to get in touch with their authors. So I’ll go ahead and publish these two and keep my fingers crossed some contact can eventually be established and I can be pardoned for those shotgun weddings.

It’s either that or giving up and doing something else, which would be a shame.

Reading the fine print – 2

In English, Reading matters on 19/08/2012 at 3:25 pm

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When he handed me the new printout, Parbpim boss Khun Jok told me: ‘You definitely won’t like this novel,’ an assertion which made his generosity truly kingly.

Khun Jok was right. I did not like this novel one bit. If I’ve kept crying, it wasn’t over the print size but over the waste of paper, ink and printing savoir-faire.

This is how the novel starts:

When Krerk was confronted [sic – เผชิญ] with the sentence ‘Catch a man and put him in jail’, it resounded in his cranium. Of course, it created a weird picture beyond grasp for a life as devoid of thrills as his. This flash of thought at first had only the effect to make him frown for five seconds and then shrug and dismiss it from his brain, but actually, it wasn’t like that. Several days later…

Krerk is a motherless near genius who has dropped out just before the end of his medicine studies he made last twelve years, twice the usual span. Ten months later, his father dies, leaving him a fortune in real estate, including one derelict building in the middle of nowhere he undertakes to rebuild and provide with … a jail. One of his tenants in another building is a dwarf. He drugs him and puts him in jail. Why? Oh, just to humour that sentence resounding in his brain. He means no harm to the dwarf and will treat him lavishly well: he only wants to control a human life, find the true meaning of human freedom, equality, fraternity and all that jazz. ‘Since childhood he had always decided important things in life with a logic it was hard for anyone else to understand.’ Me neither.

Krerk has two close childhood friends, a man, Wichit, an architect who has just lost his wife to cancer, and a woman, Nut, a concept artist. Soon enough, he invites them over to introduce them to the dwarf in the cage. Do they wonder? No. Do they protest? No. In the name of friendship, they turn complicit and help him out. Wouldn’t you?

This is the kind of fiction that demands more than suspension of disbelief, even if you skim through its 440 pages (150,000 words at a rough guess) out of sheer curiosity to see how the charade ends.

The novel’s sluggish pace over the qualms and feelings of the few characters involved would be bearable, even enjoyable, if the style was outstanding, which isn’t the case. In interviews I read on the net, the author claims he has been influenced by DH Lawrence – if only! – and that he has made good use of his own emotions as detailed at length in his diary ‘to explore the dark side of man’: this I believe and I’m not buying.

I failed to identify with any of the characters, not even the dwarf who, after a period of incomprehension, despair and recrimination and a belated and failed attempt at a forceful getaway that leaves him delirious, becomes mentally retarded and will live happy and free forever in the open jail. Meanwhile, his guardian has got bored with the whole setup and taken himself for several months and seventy pages of tourism in Australia and, what do you know, is molested in a louche bar by … another dwarf, before being involved in a car crash in the Tasmanian desert and returning a month later to his building, as wise and normal as when he started – end of story.

Reading the fine print – 1

In English, Reading matters on 17/08/2012 at 3:33 pm


As a paperback, The Dwarf by Wiphat Seethong is superbly produced: an elegant brown-black cover, blackened edges, and a model of binding. Full marks to the printer, Parbpim, whose trade I recommend without reservation. As it happens, I know Parbpim well.

Some three years ago, when I had thaifiction.com refurbished to sell my translations not only as e-books but also as paperbacks published on demand, a mutual friend addressed me to Parbpim, which conveniently happens to be a short motosai ride away from my place. Khun Jok, the youthful looking boss who seems to help out a whole stable of young writers, knew of my work and was eager to be of help. When I insisted that bindings should be at once flexible and strong enough to allow for paperbacks to be opened flat without leaves fleeing the coop, he presented me free of charge with one volume each of five of my translated novels and proved his mettle – adding however: ‘Khun Marcel, these are bound by hand; if you sell quite a few, it’ll have to be done with a machine and I can’t guarantee the same quality.’

I remember telling him then: ‘In other words, Khun Jok, you’re telling me I should sell as few copies as possible, thanks very much.’ Indeed, I sold less than a few: the notion of publishing paperbacks was dropped altogether, against my will (and this is why my website is hemiplegic: the paperback section of each page is frozen).

Meanwhile, Khun Jok has improved his trade: the copy of The Dwarf I bought is obviously not bound by hand but just as good as a hand job.

Two years ago, it was to Parbpim I turned to order five hardback copies of my translation of Kukrit Pramoj’s See Phaendin (Four Reigns) which I am forbidden to commercialise. Again, a superb job, which I was happy to pay for out of my own pocket.

But enough compliments.

This impeccably produced paperback has a major drawback, at least for anyone wearing glasses: it is almost impossible to read because of the Lilliputian print. For Thai characters, 16 points is the standard size (as easy on the eye as 11 or 12 points for farang languages); 14 points is still okay, if a strain, for cheap paperbacks; but this volume is printed in what looks like 12 points or smaller!

I tried a dozen times to tackle the first page and each time after a couple of paragraphs my eyes started to water. After reading six of the seven shortlisted novels for the SEA Write Award this year, I wasn’t going to give up on this one – 440 pages of it to boot.

Last Friday, I went to Central Pinklao in search of some sort of a contraption that would enlarge characters by two or three over a whole page – a magnifying glass I already have, thank you, but try to read a novel that way… An internet search told me that what I was looking for was some sort of Fresnel lens. No such thing for sale here, it seems.

Coming back empty-handed and fuming, I suddenly thought of looking up who the printer of the book was. Parbpim! On the spur of the moment, I hailed a motosai. Khun Jok would be back on Tuesday, but I was made welcome by his staff. I asked whether I could be sent a digital copy of the book I could read on screen or print myself in an enlarged format. I was put in contact by phone with the editor of the book, whose introduction in Thai to this Thai novel begins with a gross insult to English and Roman Stoicism – the following purported quotation from Seneca: ‘Man is something scared to man’! A quick Google search would have told Ai Tong it’s ‘Man is something sacred for man’ (Homo, sacra res homini as a pendent to the more often quoted Homo homini lupus est)…

Anyway, on Tuesday morning I called Khun Jok. He told me to come by his place after six. When I arrived, he handed me a bound, brown-paper-covered trade book-sized volume: The Dwarf in a perfectly readable format he had his guys make just for me! I treated him to a Chinese dinner at the nearby Jade Garden.

This is the volume I’ve been plodding through ever since. And I haven’t stopped crying.

C’est la faute à Voekler (2)

In French, Reading matters on 21/07/2012 at 5:26 pm

Une cure sans sinécure, disais-je : c’est que les étapes ici se terminent vers les 22-23 heures. Le reste du temps, il faut lire et traduire.

Lire : pour ses quarante ans, la société des écrivains de Thaïlande a publié une anthologie de quarante nouvelles et quarante poèmes. Les poèmes attendront. Des nouvelles – une par auteur – j’en avais déjà lues une dizaine et déjà traduites cinq. J’ai trouvé le temps d’en lire vingt autres, dont cinq me paraissent valoir d’être traduites. En reste dix – les plus, euh, les plus longues.

En même temps, j’ai entamé la lecture d’un des finalistes assurés du SEA Write Award : Lak Alai (La nature des regrets, peut-être ?) d’Uthit Hemamoon, qui avait raflé le prix il y a trois ans avec Laplae Kaengkhoi.

[Mais j’entends dire que, bis repetita, le dernier roman de Saneh Sangsuk (Sous un ciel dément, dont la traduction vers l’anglais est pour l’instant en suspens vu que je ne peux pas tout faire en même temps) ne figurerait pas dans la sélection finale, comme ce fut le cas pour L’Ombre blanche en 1994 et pour les mêmes raisons d’hyper moralisme en haut lieu. Patience : la liste des finalistes doit être rendue publique presently.]

Traduire : pour une anthologie trilingue d’OCAC, la section d’art contemporain du ministère de la Culture, j’ai transmué deux nouvelles : « The three-eyed boy who happened to fall down to Earth » de Mahannop Chomchalao (dont j’ai acheté, sinon encore lu, le roman) et « The bridge » de Wat Yuangkaeo.

Pour mon blog thaï-anglais, j’ai fini de formater un classique « écologique », « I am a tree » de Maitree Limpichart, qui sortira le 27 du mois, et « I wish I were a skunk instead of you lot » de Natakarn Limsathaporn, petit précis de viol en famille, à paraître le 10 août. Traduites ou en cours de traduction, deux autres nouvelles de Win Lyovarin, une autre de Wutisant Chantwiboon (« Love game in four acts »), l’abominable « The wish-granting shop » de Sorajak et « The dog mess village » de Saengsattha na Plaifa…

C’est qu’il faut que je prenne de l’avance si je veux passer tranquille trois semaines de vacances en France en septembre. À croire que cette cure de petite reine en version anglaise qui prend fin demain n’aura pas suffi. Mais d’ici là beaucoup de mots auront coulé sous les ponts.

The coming literary crop

In Uncategorized on 02/07/2012 at 9:04 pm

It’s this time of year again: the long list of the SEA Write Award 2012 is out. Fifteen novels are in competition out of what? perhaps a hundred, mostly published in the last few months, although the prize is supposed to bless a novel published as far back as three years ago.

And lo and behold, the eternal second of the prize – poet, short story writer, novelist, philosopher, publisher, Asia-trotter, womaniser, bon-vivant and father of one Siriworn Kaewkan – has the distinction of being the only one with two books in this pre-selection. So he’ll lose the prize twice this year.

I may or may not have read his other one about a doll mender using acacia, but his Strange world in the history of sadness isn’t going to make the grade. Having previously translated his first two novels, I read the first version as soon as it was out and thought it was too dull a mess excusable only by the vagaries of his vagabond life. When he told me over a memorable southern fare dinner that he was intent on rewriting it I begged him to desist and start on a new project. Of course he persisted and a couple of months ago sent me the new version. I flipped through it, couldn’t see much change to it and concluded the cover was its best feature.

On the other hand, there are some well-known contenders in that list: a recent SEA Write winner, Uthis Hemamool, Panu Trivej (pronounced ‘trai.weit’) and the once black sheep of the Thai literary family, Daen-aran Saengthong better known abroad under his real name, Saneh Sangsuk. As recorded here, I was so taken by his Diaodai Tai Fa Khlang (Lonely under a demented sky) that I offered a synopsis to Le Seuil, who replied they’d like to see the complete English version, so I dutifully started on that in my spare time.

I went as far as the first twenty pages but Immigration and Labour Department connived to cut short my effort, only to be seconded a week or two later by the Ministry of Culture: just as I was recovering from heavy doses of bureaucratise, the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture asked me to translate three short stories.

Once I am through with those, I’ll go back to that tumultuous affair of demented motherly love as only the author of Venom can pen.

As it turns out, one of the three short stories is ‘The three-eyed boy who happened to fall down to Earth’ by Mahannop Chomchalao, which I am now translating with great pleasure: there is much finesse in his quietly ironic writing. Since his Nai Om Kort Ka-lee (In Kali’s embrace) is one of the fifteen books selected I’ll make sure I get a copy.

For the rest, I’ll wait until the short list later this month, lah, and meanwhile watch le Tour de France – it’s that time of the year too.

How soon is ‘soon’?

In English on 02/10/2011 at 5:46 pm

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Thirty-three years and counting. After all this time, I still keep learning Thai, or rather Thai mores.

On 20 September, when he called me to say that Jadet Kamjorndet had just been awarded the SEA Write this year, a jubilant Siriworn Kaewkan told me, ‘He’ll be in Bangkok tomorrow. I’ll take him to see you next week.’ I looked forward to the visit.
On 26 September, I received an email from Jadet, ผมกับ ศิริวรจะไปหาคุณในเร็ววัน แล้วค่อยคุยกันครับ (‘Siriworn and I will come to see you soon, then we’ll talk.’)
The next day, as it happened, I went to the dentist and, as always, stopped by to buy a broiled chicken and three bags of glutinous rice. Back home, I sent an answer to Jadet’s mail: ‘If you come this evening, I’ll treat you both to khao niao kai yang. Just bought a whole beast.’
I had dinner that night and then lunch and dinner the following day on guess what.

A week later, on the morrow of the book fair that will no doubt keep the two of them busy for a week or so, I’ve grown wise to the use of ในเร็ววัน.
What in fact Jadet’s line meant was: Sorry, we can’t make it for the time being…
This is a bit unfortunate, as I have just translated not only yet another story by Siriworn (‘Lanta, Carrie May and me’) but also a third by Jadet, ‘As if it began with the rain’: its nine thousand words have occasioned quite a few perplexities to this translator-editor who needs to be enlightened. Preferably ในเร็ววัน.

Meanwhile, on another front, that’s it: over a couple of days, my PC has retrograded to the 32-bit mode, which turns out to be 86-bit in geek terms. Don’t ask. The Oxford multilingual dictionary is back, but for some reason the Hachette strenuously refuses to copy. Never mind, I’ll use the laptop connection…