By Dennis Abrams
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, first published in 1851 and is now, of course, considered a classic of world literature by anyone’s standards. Even so, it’s taken 154 years for an unabridged version of the book to be translated into Thai.
But according to the Bangkok Post, it took a crowdfunding translation project, readery.co/moby-dick, headed by the independent publisher Unlimited Literature, founded by Kittiphol Saragganonda and Warong Lupaiboon, and co-managed by the online bookstore Readery.
The project is not commercially driven. The goal is to print 700 copies of Moby Dick, with a target of 700 contributions, each of at least 700 baht (US$21) to cover the entire 500,000-bhat (US$15,350) cost of the project. In turn, each contributor will receive a hardcover copy of the book, “heroically” translated by Kwanduang Sae-tia and edited by Montree Phoomee.
What makes the project so cool though is this: “The true aim of the project isn’t about physical copies of the book, but instead the free sharing of knowledge and literature. The translated text of Moby Dick will be made public, meaning that any publisher willing to print it — commercial, educational or otherwise — is welcome to do under a Creative Commons license.”
The project is 100% funded and the book is expected to be published in June 2015.
Kittiphol told the Post, “There were a couple of Thai editions of Moby Dick before — I remember reading it as a teenager. But it was the abridged version, not the full, complete Moby Dick. We’re not translating the book in order to sell it. The crowdfunded project is mainly to support the translation, because the text will be made free. We believe classic literature should be made available to everyone in a language that can be accessed by a lot of people.”
United Literature used the same approach last year in order to translate Plato’s Republic from the Greek direct to Thai.
“I grew up with modern classics, and 19th-century literature is a frontier that I feel under-explored [in the Thai language],” Kittiphol, who is also a writer and editor, told the paper. “Once you’ve read Moby Dick, you can never run out of conversation topics. It’s a romantic adventure, but it’s also philosophy, politics, sociology and is a portrait of capitalist cruelty. There are so many ways to interpret the book.”
“Ahab is a great character,” he continued, “a mysterious, crazy man on a mad hunt. I want to know more about him — more than Ishmael, who narrates the story. I believe that people should be able to read this book and feel the curiosity and excitement.”
The translation process itself has taken Kwanduang three years, and Kittiphol admits that the process of compiling footnotes and indexes only added to the already heavy workload. And he remains confident that the project’s donation target will not only be reached, but perhaps even exceeded.
“After that, the manuscript will be free for all to reprint, even to re-edit, with the translator credited. We have an excerpt of the translation on the website. It’s not the final edit, but you can read it now,” he said.