‘The Personal Knife’ by Chart Korbjitti, translated from the Thai by Marcel Barang

The first short story I read on 1 January, as part of my “year of reading short stories”, was one by Chart Korbjitti, called ‘The Personal Knife’. Kortbjitti is a Thai author, and I found a collection of his, An Ordinary Story (and Others Less So) translated by Marcel Barang, in a second-hand bookshop in Bangkok (the collection is a retrospective of Korbjitti’s short fiction from 1981 to 2006). ‘The Personal Knife’ is a dark and unsettling, overtly political story about a father taking his son to a dinner party for extremely rich and privileged guests, each of whom have their own personal knife for the very special meal ahead. But the father is concerned at his son’s underwhelmed reaction to his environment and the luxuries on offer: “My son sat listening listlessly. I was reflecting that he should have shown more enthusiasm and was rather worried he’d turn out to be an inferior being. His eyes didn’t have that famished look ours have.” But the reader soon discovers that what gets served up is beyond palatable: “A trolley was being pushed in on which lay the body of a young man, naked but for steel straps around his arms, waist and legs […] Nobody could see his face, nobody knew who he was.” The son has to be coerced into using his knife, and getting a taste of what’s on offer: “Go on, taste it. Don’t bother yourself too much with morals. Morals is for inferior folk.” The Personal Knife’ is a visceral, gut-turning story, offering a glimpse of our most selfish sides. Modern readers might not find this tale of cannibalism screamingly original, but it was written in 1983, and at the time, was a creative and controlled attack on Thailand’s privileged classes.

First published in English in An Ordinary Story and Others Less So, Howling Books, 2010

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