Book review: The Sad Part Was – Mui Poopoksakul’s witty translation opens a new world of short stories from Thailand


By Lucy Scholes

New publisher Tilted Axis Press has made it their mission to publish world literature that ordinarily wouldn’t make it into English translation and shine a light on difference. Prabda Yoon’s short story collection The Sad Part Was certainly showcases both inventive storytelling and an innovative translation process. So much so that the volume carries an afterword by its talented translator, Mui Poopoksakul, which provides some invaluable information regarding the intriguing idiosyncrasies of Thai wordplay and the challenges of rendering these as accurately as possible in English.

As Poopoksakul explains: “any given language is a game with its own internal logic – a challenge for the translator, who attempts to recreate his moves in a language where the rules are different.” Apparently, for example, the use of punctuation in Thai is “relatively rare”, not to mention the fact that it’s a language that doesn’t utilise spaces between words in the way western readers are used to. Armed with this information, the story Miss Space’ – note the nicely translated wordplay – becomes all the more absorbing. In it, the narrator first takes note of a fellow passenger who is composing diary entries while riding the bus, due to “the extraordinary size” of the spaces between her words: “They catalysed my consciousness as though it had been struck by lightning,” the narrator declares, “and I briefly became abnormally perceptive, able to absorb information about my environment instantaneously and effortlessly. Thank god I stopped short of Nirvana.” This same wry wit can be heard throughout the collection – Poopoksakul successfully transmuting the mischievousness of Yoon’s original tales, a liveliness that extends to the syntax itself. Read more
Source: The National