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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Sad Part Was

Prabda Yoon

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To purchase The Sad Part Was

Title: The Sad Part Was
Author: Prabda Yoon
Genre: Stories
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: Thai
Availability: The Sad Part Was - US
The Sad Part Was - UK
The Sad Part Was - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : creative ideas; playful, interesting approaches

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 17/3/2017 Tash Aw
The National . 9/3/2017 Lucy Scholes
TLS . 14/4/2017 Sarah Curtis

  From the Reviews:
  • "The stories that form Prabda Yoon’s mind-bending and strangely melancholic universe are unfailingly provocative, both in their choice of subject matter -- there isn’t a single dramatic situation that can be said to be conventional in the collection of 12 stories -- as well as their narrative form. (...) Praised for its linguistic flexibility, with constant plays on words and an unusual use of punctuation, Yoon’s prose exploits the peculiarities of Thai, exploring the disconnect between the written and spoken forms of the language as well as influences drawn from other languages. These textual gymnastics make the translator’s task a nightmare." - Tash Aw, Financial Times

  • "There’s much to delight in here, Yoon’s is an original and innovative voice, and this inviting collection is a welcoming gateway to a new world of narrative possibility." - Lucy Scholes, The National

  • "The plots matter less than the way a character or a narrator elaborates an incident or a thought. (...) The air of detachment throughout could be called postmodern but it also hints at Buddhist tradition." - Sarah Curtis, Times Literary Suppelement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Sad Part Was collects a dozen short stories by Prabda Yoon. From the beginning, Prabda keeps readers on their toes, pushing boundaries with the surreal edge and quirkiness to the voice, elements, and episodes in his stories that in other ways also lean heavily (or deceptively) on the seemingly everyday.
       In 'Something in the Air' a couple finds two letters from a huge sign flung onto the roof deck of the man's home during a massive storm -- only eventually realizing that there is man, crushed and dead, underneath them. The heavily stylized language the story is presented in -- "What state is the person in ? Approach and inspect", the woman says when they discover the body -- gives a disarmingly formal feel to the absurdity of the situation and the characters' actions. The language and tropes of classical tragedy meet farce in a story of greater, higher powers, and fate and guilt -- the latter poignantly inescapable, even as the young man knows that in his ignorance he was innocent.
       The stories range from the as-the-title-has-it The Disappearance of a She-Vampire in Pattaya to the story of a mother taking her now thirty-one-year-old son on a trip to Alaska to finally actually see snow, after a lifetime in which he constantly brought her what he called snow (but apparently was just whatever was at hand -- and, this being Thailand, that was never actually snow). In 'The Crying Parties' four men reunite after the loss of the woman they all loved, holding a 'crying party' of the kind they had with her -- but finding, unsurprisingly, you can't home again (especially when a new tenant has moved in).
       Many of the stories play with story-telling itself --beginning with the first: just five words into Pen in Parentheses the narrator gets sidetracked, and nests his story and explanation in parentheses -- which only close again right at then end. The 'story', in its ostensible totality, is the simplest of events and descriptions: "The sheet of paper fell so I bent down and picked it up", but of course the actual story is everything in between.
       In 'Marut by the Sea' the protagonist rebels against his creator, spending much of the story complaining about the author --"Prabda Yoon, [...] that's him, that's the guy I'm talking about". And he wants readers to know:

     Believe me, Prabda's stories don't get any better than this. I myself could write ten or twenty a day. But I might kill myself first -- it's too easy. The examples I brought up are his specialty. In other words, the type of bizarre story which he makes end so cryptically, as though the harder it is to understand, the better.
       In 'Miss Space' the narrator writes about learning to write -- and how, eventually, "after I'd mastered writing (or at least scrawling)"
An up-to-me anarchy prevailed. Without checks or and bounds, the letters became brash -- they got loose, lax and liquidy, lumped together or leaning forwards and backwards in a carefree and shameless manner.
       The narrator here encounters a woman on a bus, Miss Wondee, who he sees writing in her diary, and he's fascinated by it. As he tries to explain to her: "Your spacing has left a big impression on me". Here is writing where:
One might say that you give as much weight to the spaces as the letters in your sentences. Or maybe even more
       While more obvious in the original Thai -- where, as translator Mui Poopoksakul explains in her Afterword, spacing is rather a bigger issue -- there's obvious resonance even in English. And Prabda nicely uses the idea in how he ends this particular tale.
       In the opening story, the narrator recounts studying art at university, and notes that simple artistic talent, like being able to draw, isn't enough any more: "You have to think deep. You have to have a 'concept.'". Prabda plays with concepts, but doesn't ignore the craft, either. Translator Mui Poopoksakul's Afterword suggests much of the wordplay -- distinctive to Thai -- is necessarily lost, but enough comes through, or is adequately rendered in English, to give a feel for what Prabda does.
       All in all it makes for an enjoyable, playful collection, with some creative ideas nicely realized.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 March 2017

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The Sad Part Was: Reviews: Prabda Yoon: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Thai author Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น) was born in 1973.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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