September 4, 2008

Translator's Corner: The Great Gatsby

Preface: With the political conflict in full swing nationwide, it seems a little odd to continue posting without even acknowledging it. The fact of the matter is, it's business as usual for virtually everyone.

The price of the baht is falling, tourism is headed for the toilet, and the government is in a tight spot as the lunatics attempt to wrest control of the asylum. But even with the state of emergency declared in Bangkok and several countries issues advisories against traveling to Thailand, you could be within a couple blocks of Government House and PAD central and be none the wiser.

With that, Thai 101 continues its ongoing coverage of all things irrelevant to the political stability of the country. See
Bangkok Pundit and elsewhere for updates on that other stuff. :P

Today is two-for-one day at Thai 101. You get samples from two (count 'em) translations of that perennial favorite of high school English teachers, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I read this for class in high school, and then again my freshman year of college. I enjoy me some Fitzgerald. And I have two Thai translations of
Gatsby, actually. One published in 1975 and another in 2003.

The first is titled รักเธอสุดที่รัก (literally 
I love you, my beloved), translated by ศ. ปรางค์ and published by ประพันธ์สาส์น. Based on the cover art and generous number of film stills in the front matter, it was published in connection with/to capitalize on the 1974 Robert Redford film adaptation. Here's the cover:

The second is called แกตสบี้... ผู้ยิ่งใหญ่ (literally Gatsby... the great), translated by มาศสวรรค์ จำปาสุด and published as part of a series ชุดวรรณกรรมคลาสสิกโลก 'classic world literature' by สร้างสรรค์บุ๊คส์. Its cover looks like this:

(Somewhat inexplicably, the cover designer went for what looks like a Victorian nobleman's mansion on the cover a book set in America's Roaring Twenties.)

The 1975 volume appears to have been a rush job (again, probably because it was a movie tie-in). The first ten pages are printed in mixed-up order, and quick comparison with the English reveals that the translation leaves things out here and there, including the book's final sentence. Bizarre.

But anyhow, let's look at the opening lines from The Great Gatsby in both volumes:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

1975: ในวัยหนุ่มอันโชกโชนของผมนั้น พ่อผมได้ให้คำแนะนำบางสิ่งบางอย่างแก่ผมซึ่งผมยังจำได้มาจนกระทั่งทุกวันนี้

2003: คำสอนของพ่อเมื่อครั้งผมเป็นเด็ก และอ่อนต่อโลกมากกว่าตอนนี้ ยังวนเวียนอยู่ในใจผมจนถึงทุกวันนี้

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

1975: พ่อบอกผมว่า "เมื่อใดก็ตามที่เธอคิดจะวิพากษ์วิจารณ์ผู้อื่นละก็ขอให้ระลึกอยู่เสมอว่าคนอื่น ๆ ในโลกนี้น่ะ ไม่มีโอกาสดีอย่างที่เธอมี"

2003: ท่านสอนไว้ว่า "เมื่อใดก็ตามที่แกรู้สึกอยากตัดสินใครสักคน ขอให้จำไว้เพียงแค่ว่า ไม่ใช่ทุกคนในโลกจะมีโอกาสทัดเทียมแก"

He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.

1975: ท่านไม่ได้พูดอะไรมากไปกว่านี้อีก แต่ทว่าธรรมดาเราก็พูดคุยกันไม่มากเท่าไรอยู่แล้ว และผมก็เข้าในดีอยู่ว่าท่านหมายความมากไปกว่าที่ท่านพูดออกมา

2003: พ่อไม่ได้อธิบายเพิ่มเติม แต่เรามักจะสื่อสารกันแปลก ๆ อย่างนี้แหละ คือไม่พูดอะไรมากแต่ผมเข้าใจดีว่าคำพูดของพ่อมีความหมายมากมายยิ่งกว่านั้น

In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.

1975: ด้วยเหตุนี้ผมจึงมักจะไม่ค่อยตัดสินเรื่องอะไรง่าย ๆ นี่เป็นนิสัยที่ทำให้ผมเกิดความอยากรู้อยากเห็นหลายอย่างและยังทำให้ผมกลายเป็นผู้ต้องรับเคราะห์แห่งความเบื่อหน่ายอีกด้วย

2003: สิ่งที่ตามมาคือ ผมไม่ค่อยตัดสินใคร เป็นนิสัยที่ทำให้ธรรมชาติของความเป็นคนอยากรู้อยากเห็นในตัวผมปรากฏชัดขึ้น และยังทำให้ผมตกเป็นเหยื่อของพวกที่ผ่านอะไรในชีวิตมามากอยู่หลายครั้งหลายคราด้วยกัน

The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.

1975: สมองอันผิดปกติจะค้นพบและเกาะตัวมันติดอยู่กับคุณสมบัติอันนี้ เมื่อบังเกิดขึ้นในคนปกติ ดังนั้นเมื่อสมัยที่อยู่ในมหาวิทยาลัยผมจึงถูกกล่าวหาว่าเป็นนักการเมือง เพราะผมเก็บตัวจากความยุ่งยากของคนอื่น

2003: จิตที่ไม่ปกติยึดติดกับคุณสมบัติข้อนี้ได้อย่างรวดเร็วถ้ามันเกิดขึ้นกับคนปกติ (อย่างตัวผม) เมื่อครั้งที่เรียนอยู่ในมหาวิทยาลัยผมโดนกล่าวหาว่าเป็นนักการเมือง เนื่องจากผมปิดบังความลับของกลุ่มคนที่ผมไม่รู้จัก

As I do more of these comparisons of translated texts with the originals, I must reiterate: it's hard to translate literature. In some places both translators just don't seem to quite get the author's gist, which can have far-reaching affects for an overall translation.

The story's narrator, Nick Carraway, opens the book by explaining that due to this advice his father game him, he is the (sometimes unwilling) confidante of many a person. Because he's not judgmental, people tend to spill their guts to him, like it or not.

There are a couple of lines in this opening passage that show this. First, that his neutral nature "...
made me the victim of not a few veteran bores." That is, sometimes being a good listener makes bores (i.e. boring people) talk your ear off. Also, that "...I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men". Even people he didn't know spilled their guts to him.

Neither translation quite gets these details right. I guess it's because much is not said directly, but left for the reader to infer and interpret. So while the deft and clever use of language is what makes a book like this a classic, those same touches make it diabolically difficult to render in another language.

Having done some further comparison, I prefer the 2003 to the 1975. Less literal, captures the feel of the English better. The language is a little more lively, a little more creative. And oddly, the 1975 version is missing portions of the final paragraphs of the book, I noticed. The book has a powerful ending, I think, and to see the last sentence entirely omitted from the earlier translation strikes me as odd, to say the least. I wonder if parts are missing elsewhere, too.

Vocabulary. A few words to know:
  • โชกโชน = adj. experienced, having been through a lot. Unless there's something I'm missing, this seems like the entirely wrong word for 'vulnerable' in the opening line 'in my younger and more vulnerable years'. (Also used in the sense 'drenched, soaking wet'.) So what exactly does this วัยหนุ่มอันโชกโชน mean--his young 'wild' years? Perhaps the translator was thinking vulnerable as in prone to vice? I'm not sure.
  • อยากรู้อยากเห็น = adj. curious, inquisitive.
  • คุณสมบัติ [คุน-นะ-สม-บัด] = n. characteristic, quality.
  • กล่าวหา = v. accuse.
  • เหยื่อ = n. prey, victim.
Okay, I'm all analyzed out. See you next time.

[Update: Scott of Journey to Thai pointed out that the 1974 Thai cover is designed to look just like this English movie tie-in edition published by Penguin the same year:

The Thai text is even made to look like the English. Scott also made a recent post about other similar logo designs.

Also notice that the Thai cover follows the then-standard practice of prominently featuring the translator's name, with the original author's name nowhere in sight. I think this started to change around the 1980s, but I'd have to  pretty much everything prior to that you have to look in the frontmatter to figure out who wrote the book.

The quality of a translation certainly depends on the translator's facility with language, but it's interesting that this trend has now gone the way of the dodo. Nowadays you'll virtually always have both names on the cover, author and translator.]


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  2. That cover for the 1974 edition is interesting. I like how they wrote the Thai script so that it almost reads "Gatsby" in English. I found this image of the English edition with the same cover.

  3. Nice find! Yes, I've been meaning to do a post for a while now about this sort of thing for a while. Harry Potter is another one where they've made the Thai script look remarkably close to the English.

    I think I'll update the post to include that cover image.