Friday, July 18, 2008
8 pages of colin cotterill
this ain't a book review. how could it be when i am only 'bout 8 pages into the thing. but for some time, i've noticed on the spl website that when i do a book search on "Laos" this guy colin cotterill shows up with 4 or 5 books... fiction, by the way - and mysteries at that. so i finally checked one out: anarchy and old dogs. and it's part of a series of whodunits 'bout an old doctor, siri paiboun, running around in 1970s communist Laos, solving crimes, seeing ghosts, etc. so i started reading it, and this is my 8-pages-in report... and admittedly, maybe i'm being overly critical 'bout all this, but here are my initial issues with the book, all of which are linguistic in nature:
1) i kinda wish that cotterill had tried to romanize the names of his characters in a more consistent way. on page 2 is the name, dr. buagaew. i am not sure how to say that... is it the same as bouakeo? and is siri paiboun the same as phaiboun? and if bouakeo is buagaew, then shouldn't phaiboun be paibun? and is nurse dtui the same as tui, like fat? and is tawon of the severed scrotum the same as tavanh? i just think that the french, for all the bad things people say about 'em, had a pretty good system for spelling Lao names, and so you might as well stick to it. besides, the spellings are kinda nice when you look at them - nice in their consistency and also aesthetically. to cotterill's defense, he does live in thailand where the romanization of thai names has become this grab-bag, free-for-all nightmare. thai names are spelt however you want, whenever you want, whatever you want, with a seemingly random positioning of english letters - sometimes its jun, then its chun, then its jan... (when really it's chan). but enough of that, on to number...
2) this may not be an important point for most, but neither was my first complaint: cotterill uses idiomatic expressions that are kinda weird in the context of the Lao language - like, "bet my socks on it (pg. 7)" and the phrase from whence the books title comes, "the old dog might learn a few tricks (pg. 8)" ...socks, dogs, feet... i don't know what the Lao equivalents would be, but i don't think they would reference such topics as dogs and feet unless they were cussing at someone. and finally,
3) nurse dtui makes plans to go to her palm-reader, a transvestite, who gives free readings. this becomes an opportunity for dr. siri (pg. 8) to make the comment, "are you saying that she ... he doesn't charge?" i think that we're to believe that this conversation is originally spoken in Lao, and that what we're reading is a translation of sorts, but if this conversation was in Lao, then the whole he/she thing is a non-issue. the pronoun for he/she is gender neutral - its the same for both men and women (Lao). and i bet that cotterill's gotta speak some thai and Lao... (and it's the same in both languages) so how did this sneak through?
i am gonna stop at number 3, although i could continue. in fact, i am slightly embarrassed to post this - i mean, i'm a jerk: he's writing a mystery novel, which really ain't meant to be literary scholarship academic professor indy jones kinda stuff. so read the book if you like mysteries, and try to stop yourself from thinking about how european the character's jokes sound or, "how would this be said in Lao?"
he's got a nice website - it's http://www.colincotterill.com/