The Sad Part Was: Prabda Yoon

Translated from Thai by Mui Poopoksakul

A man is intrigued by the spaces between the words a schoolgirl is writing in her diary, a couple discover a corpse on the roof crushed under the fallen letters from a neon sign, a group of men meet to mark the death of the woman they loved with alcohol and chillies, and a she-vampire and her son go missing.

These are some of the odd situations and people you meet in this collection of short stories by Prabda Yoon, a Thai writer. His protagonists are young people, and the stories have a strangeness to them that is intriguing. They tend to end inconclusively. And this refusal to have tidy endings works—I found myself thinking of the characters, wondering how they ended up.

Yoon plays with concepts and punctuation. The story about the schoolgirl is clarified in the note from the translator at the end—in Thai, there are no spaces between words, so the words have meanings of their own but also form compound words that mean something different. The protagonist sees the girl writing on a bus and tries to understand why she leaves so much space between her words, providing “breathing room, so each letter can inhale and exhale comfortably”. Here Yoon’s humour comes through: the man asks the girl why she writes like that and before she can answer, tells her what he thinks (yet another example of mansplaining!) until she misses her bus stop. And every time he meets her on the bus, he does the same thing, so he never actually finds out why she does it, but she knows all about his theories. In a post-modern story, Marut, a character created by Yoon, is scathing about the writer who is gave the character life.

I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this collection, but I did. It’s different—the world Yoon creates is just a little off-centre, making it interesting and unusual. The book is published by Tilted Axis Press, which publishes books that might not otherwise be translated into English, so if you’re looking to widen your reading, geographically speaking, have a look at the website. It’s not a huge selection, but has some interesting titles.

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