Thailand - Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn translated a Chinese novel that Thais can readily appreciate.
"Reading literature not only brings me more knowledge, it also helps me understand people and culture better," says Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, a dedicated bookworm - and an author in her own right.
She became so fascinated by the lives of three Chinese women in Chinese writer Chi Li's novel "Her City" that she decided to translate it into Thai, with the title "Naree Nakara".
"I read an article about Chi Li on a plane and found her novels really interesting. I sought out more about her work and decided I wanted to translate this one," the Princess explained at the launch of her 159-page edition last Thursday at the Shangri-La Hotel.
The winner of several literary awards in her homeland whose works have been turned into movies, an opera and a radio series, Chi Li reflects in her writing the changes that Chinese lives have undergone amid the government's reforms and modernisation. The main focus is women's roles.
Her books have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, but "Her City" is the first to appear in Thai.
It's about the relationships among three Chinese women of different generations - mother-in-law grandma, middle-aged widow and young, married, modern lady - who live in Wuhan in Hubei province, where Chi Li was born.
The Princess translated "Her City" last year, the sixth Chinese novel she's adapted for Thai readers. Having studied with Chinese tutors, she is fluent in Mandarin and well acquainted with Chinese literature and fine arts.
"The story unfolds on a street named Han Zheng in Wuhan City," she told listeners at the book launch. "The three ladies of different generations and backgrounds gradually learn more about each other and develop a relationship."
Mi Jie is the widow, and a former soldier, a strong, modern woman. After her husband dies she opens a small shoeshine shop and hires a young married woman, Feng Chun, as her assistant. Mi Jie's unnamed mother-in-law and role model is a noble elder who is determined to preserve traditional ways.
China's strictly hierarchical society is explored, along with the often-heroic roles that women serve as mothers and wives. Chinese women have to be strong to survive, it becomes clear, and, crucially, they pass on their wisdom from one generation to the next.
Besides portraying the rapid changes that the communist country continues to undergo, the author shares that classical wisdom through the cuisine of Hubei.
The Princess' Thai edition adds to readers' appreciation of the setting with 20-odd photographs taken in Wuhan, depicting popular Hubei dishes, an old-style kitchen and the boisterous life of the city's narrow streets.
"After reading in Chi Li's novel about the local cuisine, I just had to taste it!" the Princess laughed.
And that's exactly what she got to do at the book launch - where delicious dishes created by Hubei chefs were served. Hubei's deputy governor, Wang Junzheng, and Chinese Ambassador Guan Mu organised the event - and the catering.
Having sampled the cuisine of the novel, the Princess will next Saturday travel to the locale in person.
She first visited China in 1981 and continues to make regular treks, building on Sino-Thai relations and learning more about the culture. All told she has made more than 30 trips to China - but this one promises to be the most fun, a journey into the literary world of Chi Li.
Shelf of stories
HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has translated many other Chinese books: "Small Village of Bao Family" by Wang An Yi, "Tang Song Dynasty Poem" by an unknown author, "Butterfly" by Wang Meng, "Meak Hern Nam Lai" by Fang Fang, "Her Name is Xiao Yu" by Ge Ling Yan, " Termite" by Gunter Eich and "The Light of Ai Er Ke" by Ba Jin. All are available at www.NameeBooks.com.