Author: งามพรรณ เวชชาชีวะ (Ngamphan Wetchachiwa)
First published: 2003
ความสุขของกะทิ is a slim little book that won the 2006 SEAWrite Award for best novel. It relates the experiences of Kati, a young girl dealing with the illness and death of her mother. I enjoyed the portrayal of family relationships in this book. The protagonist is a nine year old, but she's written with a mix of curiosity and natural wisdom. She is the lens through which each member of the family is portrayed, as they deal with their grief and loss. The maturity of her attitudes and insights make Kati feel more of a Platonic ideal than a believable character, but I don't think that undermines the intention of the story. For me, it was a book about dealing with mortality and grief. I can relate to the underlying emotions, and I can't help but think that the author was moved to write this book by the death of someone close to her.
I didn't read this with the plan to review it, so I don't have any great analysis to give of it. That's not really my style anyway. But I enjoyed the emotional journey, and lately I've been wanting to practice my hand at translation, so I'll jump right in. My style is to translate fairly closely, so I haven't done much to vary the style and word choice here. The book is 27 very short chapters, and below is my translation of the first.
Part 1: The House on the Canal
Chapter 1. Wok and spatula
"Mom never promised she would come back."
The sound of the metal spatula in the wok awakened Kati, as it had done on previous days. Actually, the pleasant fragrance of cooked rice had something to do with it, too, along with the smell of smoke from the stove and the scent of fried eggs. But it was the sound of the spatula knocking against the wok that pulled Kati free from her slumbering visions and into the new day.
Kati never took much time to bathe and dress. Grandpa often teased her, "Finished running past the water already, are you?" Grandma turned to look as Kati came into the kitchen. She never smiled or uttered a greeting. Grandpa said that Grandma's smiles are so rare, they should be packaged and exported for sale in other countries.
Kati dished rice into a bowl. The beautiful white color of the rice went well with fresh morning air like this. Steam from the rice in her arms floated up around her chest and heart, which kept time as Kati raced out to the pier. Grandpa sat reading the newspaper, waiting with a tray of food as usual. Before long, the sound of oars on water could be heard as the front of a boat appeared around the bend. The saffron robes of Luang Lung added an extra measure of freshness to the atmosphere. Pi Tong, Luang Lung's pupil, flashed his white teeth from afar. Grandpa said that Pi Tong should join a comedy troupe--his smile was like a contagious disease. It sprang from his cheerful heart, proceeded directly to his mouth and eyes, and radiated in ripples around him--like throwing a stone into water--until everyone around felt it.
Grandpa poured the ceremonial water beneath the bo tree. Kati made merit with her grandfather, and recited a prayer in her mind.
Their breakfast awaited them. A large meal like this one every morning. Grandpa stuck to boiled vegetables and chili paste, leaving the stir fry and fried fish nearly all for Kati. Grandpa avoided every kind of fried food. He complained behind Grandma's back that it was like her food had been shellacked--some day he would take her wok and spatula and donate them to the army to smelt into a cannon for protecting the nation. If Grandma heard, she would have a fit. On that day, the sound of Grandma banging the spatula against the wok would be deafening and incessant, so much that it would be surprising if the wok survived to do its duty another day.