Covering China Best-seller “Kite Runner”: Taking Translator Invisibility to the Extreme

Gao Yuanyuan praises The Kite RunnerIn How to Top China’s Best-seller List Without Really Trying, Alexa Olesen reports on a recent upsurge in sales of the Chinese edition of Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner (追风筝的人):

Over the last nine years, The Kite Runner has sold more than 3 million copies in China. Nearly a third of that total comes from sales in 2014.

She puts this down to what she terms the “Oprah effect.” This is a reference to the fact that actress Gao Yuanyuan (高圆圆) “recommended the book during a 2013 appearance on the hugely popular Chinese variety show ‘Happy Camp’ [快乐大本营] .”

Amazingly, Olesen manages to write over 1,300 words about the incredible popularity of the book in China — without ever mentioning the translator.

For the story behind translator Li Jihong (李继宏) and his rendition, see An Afghan Childhood Re-packaged for the Middle Kingdom.

Comments

  1. Alexa Olesen says:

    Bruce, You are right. I absolutely should have mentioned Li Jihong. And I really wish I had seen your piece ‘An Afghan Childhood Re-packaged for the Middle Kingdom’ while I was doing my research. I just read it. It’s a fascinating post. I have great respect and admiration for literary translators. When they do their job well, they do become invisible. The Chinese reader comments on Dangdang and Douban on Kite Runner are bountiful and I am sure that there are some among them praising Li’s translation. Mainly people focus on the story though and how it made them feel. Many are not noticing Li’s translation, which is really a testament to Li’s work. Thank you for bringing his story to readers. Best, Alexa Olesen

    • @ Alexa Great to hear from you, and so quickly! I honestly do think that for literary works, whenever possible the translator should be mentioned. After all, for the Chinese reader, Li Jihong is effectively Khaled Hosseini. Li Jihong has since become somewhat of a brand name himself, thanks to a series of popular renditions of classics whose Chinese copyrights had expired, including The Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea and Walden (Amazon.com.cn).

      That said, his approach to translating The Kite Runner — employing a form of “domestication” that at times is rather extreme — is one that many translators and intellectuals, not to mention various types of readers too, definitely find abhorrent. This is evident from some comments following my interview with him. Such opinions are highly subjective yet fascinating, but unless we call attention to the fact that a given work was translated, and by a specific writer, then that debate is missing a crucial element. It also follows that if we want to analyze why a given translation is selling well (or poorly), knowing whose work we are talking about is also certainly necessary.

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