Tsunami

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Tsunami by Anatoly Kurchatkin, translated by Arch Tait.

Moscow’s Red Square and Bangkok’s Imperial Queen’s Park wouldn’t seem to have much in common but for the main characters in Anatoly Kurchatkin’s enjoyable and fascinating novel Tsunami, translated by Arch Tait from the original Russian, there is much that unites these disparate locales.

Early in the story, the Russian protagonist Radislav and his female companion at that moment, a child of the Soviet-era aristocracy, are walking past one of Bangkok’s royal parks when they chance upon a group of people practicing a “ballet of a kind he had never seen before.” Radislav admits to his friend Nellie, “I don’t feel I’m in a faraway foreign country. I feel this is where I belong.” The response is quick:

“Of course you do,” Nellie replied briskly. “We are an imperial people. Citizens of the former Soviet Union. For us Asian faces are part of our family. The whole world is our home. I’m speaking from experience. It doesn’t matter where you travel, everywhere feels like home.”

Kurchatkin’s entertaining use of dialogue both keeps the story moving along and imbues an additional psychological depth to the musings of the Russian and Thai characters. The reader might be reminded of other great Russian writers who centered philosophical insights not in the actions or events of the plot, but in the mouths of the characters themselves. The more vocal the characters are, the more wisdom there is to be gleaned from their chatty interactions. Sometimes these discussions are on heavier topics, while other dialogue is more lighthearted.

For example, in one scene, Radislav and Nellie are being chaperoned by their Thai friend Tony, when Tony learns of a lovers’ spat between the two Russians:

“Ah, I expect Rad just doesn’t like the fact that I’m European,” Nellie responded.
Tony, taking his hands off the wheel, and turning to face her periodically, protested.
“No, Nellie, you are not European. I would say you are a Thai woman. You only look European, but inside you are Thai.”
“Well, in that case Rad doesn’t like the fact that I’m a Thai,” she persisted.
Tony’s unfailing smile showed signs of reproach.
“Rad, what you have done to Nellie?” he asked. “I think you have made her sad.”
Rad was left with no option but to respond.
“Nellie is a Russian woman, Tony, and a Russian woman is probably a mixture of European and Thai. It is a dangerous mixture.” He had wanted to say “explosive” but did not know the word in English.

The above quotations also highlight one of the leitmotifs of this story. The protagonist Radislav hints at… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review of Tsuami by Anatoly Kurchatkin originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of Thai memorial stamps of 2014 Tsunami for this re-post goes to Mark Jochim and his A Stamp A Day blog. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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The Sad Part Was

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Prabda Yoon’s The Sad Part Was, translated by Mui Poopoksakul.

Thailand’s most popular literary writers rarely get an introduction onto the world stage. An English language newspaper like The Bangkok Post will hint at the greatness of one seminal Thai author or another in their arts and culture section. But non-Thai readers will be clueless as to why. That short stories by the Thai writer Prabda Yoon are now available in his first English language anthology The Sad Part Was is at least one significant corrective. Nearly two decades after Prabda caught the attention of Thai readers and won the S.E.A. Write Award, non-Thais are gifted this rare opportunity to enjoy his works through Mui Poopoksakul’s fluid translation.

Prabda’s writing is playful and creative. For international readers, the breakdown of plot structure, cryptic and sudden endings, and wordplay in general are well understood techniques. But when short story collection Probability came out in 2000, Prabda hit upon a freshness and spontaneity that was less well represented in the realistic writing in Thailand at the time.

One example is in the story “Marut by the Sea”. The burgeoning storyline of the main character Marut’s story is suddenly interrupted by a voice meant to represent some stylized, self-loathing voice of the author’s subconscious. The reader is forced to grapple with this interjecting voice as it obliterates the narrative logic:

You should comprehend by now, given my elaboration thus far, that whoever wrote that book dearest to you is no finer a human being than anybody else. He has no clue what he’s done. Do you know how I got the opportunity to pop up and communicate with you today? It’s simple. Prabda hasn’t come up with a plausible reason for why Marut is sitting by the sea.

You might be thinking that I’m part of his genius. Don’t.

The uninvited authorial voice does not let up. It continues to hold the plot of Marut’s tale hostage, speaking directly to the reader, until the last few words of the story itself. For Thai literature, the effect of the author’s interruption is striking.

All of the short stories work from a vantage point not normally accessible to non-Thai readers. Some comment on how… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of downtown Bangkok for this re-post goes to the awesome Philippe Lai. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Outrageous Thai: Slang, Curses and Epithets

New book on Thai language!

First-ever real guidebook to learn Thai slang, published by Tuttle Publishing, entitled Outrageous Thai: Slang, Curses and Epithets. Purchase through any normal book distributor or online with Amazon.

Description

The Thai people love fun and laughter. They appreciate foreigners who speak their language. But how would they react to foreigners who throw insults in the Thai language and know how to make them blush at the use of direct and vulgar Thai words? This Thai phrasebook, while designed to teach non–Thais to understand that spoken language on the street or in everyday life, also teachers powerful words that could easily get them punched in the face–probably worse. So, be cautious. This little book contains powerful words. A non–Thai, especially a Westerner, will appreciate the opportunity to learn some really strong and direct language that his Thai colleagues would rather he not know. Learn how to call someone hot or ugly, a walrus or a potbelly, stupid or a hypocrite. Know how to put off lechers by saying “Piss off!” in the strongest possible way.

Intended for just about anyone who wants to get the most reactions from any Thai within hearing distance, this book is simply the best reference you need to survive Thailand. Not just a simple phrasebook, Outrageous Thai teaches how to really speak Thai, and understand the Thai language. Know what Thais really mean and answer back. Features of this Thai phrasebook are:

– Compact travel size.
– Hundreds of colorful Thai phrases organized by topic and use.
– Extensive explanations of context and culture.
– All phrases shown in written Thai script, Romanized Thai and English.

Intended for students of all levels and anyone interested in how Thai is really spoken, this book is absolutely indispensable for foreigners who live in Thailand and want to know what is being said when someone insults you in Thai!

Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Original ed. edition (2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804840539
ISBN-13: 978-0804840538
Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces

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*Original copyright for book is held by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit for image of this post via Top10TripList. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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