A Good Year for Chinese-English Translation

At Paper Republic, Nicky Harman celebrates a good year for Chinese-to-English translations, listing twenty books published—mostly—in 2012.

OK, I’ve cheated a bit – three of the publications below are poetry, and two others come out in January 2013. Still, it’s a good haul and many times better than the annual total, say, ten years ago. (Please post a comment if I’ve missed anyone out.) I couldn’t begin to add up just how many hours of translation the whole list represents, and that’s without the extra work translators have put in, on some of these books, to get them off the ground. So, lets raise a glass to translation and all pat ourselves on the back!

[…] PS On Twitter, @cfbcuk (that’s the China Fiction Book Club) has posted each one with review links, tagged #abook4xmas.

Among the twenty is Mo Yan’s Sandalwood Death, translated by Howard Goldblatt. Goldblatt has been variously credited with accurately rendering the Nobel-winner’s prose by Mo’s admirers, and with flattering it by his critics. Two titles were translated by Allan Barr, professor of Chinese at Pomona College. The school’s website features an interview on his translations of Han Han’s This Generation and Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words:

“Han Han’s style is sarcastic and playful, full of mischievous puns, and channeling his distinctive voice and conveying his wicked sense of humor were the biggest challenges I faced,” says Barr, who has been at Pomona since 1981.

[…] The concept of one book, China in Ten Words, was developed after Yu [Hua] spoke at Pomona in 2009. Barr had invited the writer to speak during his U.S. tour for his novel Brothers. When discussing the topic of Yu’s speech, Barr suggested Yu speak about China from a writer’s point of view, and Yu built his presentation around two common words in the contemporary Chinese language: 人民 (“people”) and 领袖 (“leader”). He realized he had other words he wanted to write about and developed the idea into a book.

“When I drove him to LAX at the end of his visit here, we agreed that I would translate the book into English,” recalls Barr. “Yu Hua wrote China in Ten Words over the months that followed, sending me each chapter as he completed it. The book’s 10 chapters all take a different word as their theme, in a wide-ranging discussion that involves memoir, anecdote, and analysis.” The book’s Taiwan edition mentions Pomona in the preface, says Barr, but that reference didn’t make it into the English edition. The book was not published in mainland China due to its critiques of the country.

See Yu Hua’s own words on the book, translated by CDT’s Don Weinland, and Perry Link’s review, via CDT. On Han Han, see recent profiles and reviews by Jeffrey Wasserstrom at Words without Borders, Rebecca Liao at The New Inquiry, Katrina Hamlin at Reuters’ Breakingviews, Duncan Hewitt at The Daily Beast and Ian Johnson at The New York Review of Books, as well as an excerpt from This Generation at The Daily Beast.


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