The Spanish-language edition of Chi Zijian’s 20th-century saga of the Evenki, 《额尔古纳河右岸》, is now for sale online in China (JD.com). Co-translated by Xu Yingfeng (徐颖丰) and Fernando Esteban Sema, A la orilla derecha del Río Argún joins my English translation, Last Quarter of the Moon, Ultimo quarto di luna (Italian), and Het laatste kwartier van de maan (Dutch), all of which have been published. Sur la rive droite de l’Argoun will be out in French by 4Q 2016. The Turkish edition is now being translated.
Happily, the Spanish version is the first to use a direct translation of the title from the Chinese, i.e., The Right Bank of the Argun. I argued for the same in English, but Harvill Secker opted to follow the previously published Italian translation which ignored the Chinese title in favor of the quarter moon “theme.” What a pity!
Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the novel is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested mountains that border on Russia.
At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.
Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.