Swedish Readers to Get First Glance into World of China’s Marginalized Reindeer Herders

With the upcoming launch of Ett brokigt band om renens horn, we have a rare instance of a member of China’s dwindling reindeer-herding Evenki telling her people’s story in a European language. Given the historic

“There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki.”

marginalization of Scandinavia’s own semi-nomadic reindeer-herders, the Sami, it is particularly significant to see that the first translation of the novel will appear in Swedish.

Translator and co-publisher Anna Gustaffsson Chen tells me that the book is being printed right now, and should be available “within a few weeks.” It is translated direct from the novel in Chinese, 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), authored by Keradam Balajieyi, the daughter of the Evenki’s last Shamaness. See here for more about the novel.

The unique lifestyle and gradual 20th-century demise of the Evenki, particularly the Aoluguya Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains on the China side of the Amur, has actually been fairly well documented, but usually by outsiders. One of the first written records was penned by Gu Deqing (顾德清), a Han with an intense interest in the Evenki, who — despite efforts by the authorities to protect the isolated Evenki from contact with the outside world — hunted with them in 80s and wrote (the as yet untranslated) 猎民生活日记 (lit., Diary of a Hunting People’s Life). Gu Tao (顾桃), his son by his Manchu wife, has since gone on to shoot several renowned documentaries about them.  See Gu Tao’s Northern Hunting People for dozens of still photos featuring the Evenki lifestyle, handicrafts and their beloved reindeer.

Nor has the plight of the Evenki been neglected by foreign anthropologists. See Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia, by Richard Fraser.

But perhaps the best known tale of the Aoluguya Evenki is the one told in Chi Zijian’s much-translated novel, 额尔古纳河右岸, now available in Dutch, English (The Last Quarter of the Moon), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. See here for a multilingual list of related links.

In fact, Chinese-to-Swedish translator Chen is also slated to translate The Last Quarter of the Moon from the Chinese, but has apparently chosen to do Ett brokigt band om renens horn first. It will be interesting to compare the two, because Chi Zijian is a monolingual Han writer imagining herself as an Evenki woman in her 90s, while Balajieyi is writing about her own people.

Trilogy Set on Yunnan-Tibetan Border

All three of the novels in Fan Wen’s trilogy set on the Yunnan-Tibetan border in the 19-20th centuries are now available — in one form or another:

My favorite so far was the first novel in the trilogy, Shuǐ rǔ dàdì, which I described thusly in my interview with the author (A Century of Cultural Collisions in Shangri-la):

[Shuǐ rǔ dàdì] . . . tells the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon — Gateway to Tibet — beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent Han officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.

But the newest of the novels to be published (translated by Shelly Bryant), is Land of Mercy. Marcia Johnson in Shanghai has written to mention that she bought the Kindle version, is enjoying it, and notes that several of the chapters include “Field Notes” by the author about how he — a devout Catholic convert raised in Sichuan — came to “learn about some of the seemingly magical elements he weaves into his tale.”

See here for an interview in French with the translator of Terre de lait et de miel.

Altaic Storytelling: What We’re Reading Now (2017.5)

A few years back I read a longish, semi-autobiographical novel by Guo Xuebo (郭雪波), who was raised in the Horchin Grasslands of Inner Mongolia (科尔沁草原) and is a native speaker of Mongolian. Entitled 《蒙古里亚》— an attempt to replicate the sound of “Mongolia” in Chinese, I assume — it comprises three distinct narratives that are intricately intertwined as the novel progresses: A spiritual journey, in which the narrator/author seeks his Shaman roots; various “scenes” from the journey of a real-life, early 20th-century Scandinavian explorer among the Mongols; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu (特勒约苏), a modern-day Mongolian herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and the machinations of a greedy coal mining company. I just finished my draft translation of an excerpt from the novel, in which Teelee is jailed for threatening to self-immolate (自焚). The excerpt all takes place in jail, as a bevy of reporters, Banner honchos and a mysterious security official alternately congratulate, chide and interrogate him, the latter out of fear that — heaven forbid! — he has been inspired by Tibet’s self-immolating Buddhist monks.

I’ve just started reading Manas Resurrected, a short story by Xi’an’s Hong Ke (《复活的玛纳斯》红柯 著). As far as I know, it has not been translated yet. I’m intrigued for two reasons: The reference to the ancient Kyrgyz epic Manas, and the fact that it is set in the early 60s when the Soviet Union’s Kazakhstan did its best to lure Xinjiang residents (mainly Kazakhs and Uyghurs) across the border. Apparently as many as 60,000+ did actually leave China. I don’t know much about this mass movement or the politics behind it, but it has not been forgotten in the PRC. The exodus came up in a short story (Sidik Golden MobOff) and again in a novel (Zuilian) by the Xinjiang-based Uyghur author Alat Asem, both of which I translated. He repeatedly refers to the attraction a new life in Kazakhstan exercised on many Uyghurs during that period, and at times his protagonists speak of the émigrés with great disdain.

Hundreds of Turkish Journalists in Jail or on the Run

The Hürriyet Daily News English edition reports:

Exiled in Germany: Can Dündar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhurriyet. An arrest warrant in absentia was issued in Turkey for him on 31 October 2016.

Some 123 Turkish journalists are fugitives abroad, while 159 of them were in jail as of the end of April, according to a report by the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC). 


The Freedom of Expression and Press report, which was made possible by the European Union, said 46 new investigations were launched and 20 additional cases were filed against journalists in the first four months of 2017, [Turkish-language] daily Cumhuriyet reported on May 19.

“In the past four months, Turkey continued to be the world leader with the number of journalists in jail,” the report said, adding that in nearly all of the cases regarding journalists, demands for trial without arrest had been rejected.”

 

Quote of the Week: Lumières de Pointe-Noire

Quand tu grandiras, quelle que soit la brousse dans laquelle tu entreras, dis-toi que les esprits y logent, et respecte aussi bien la faune que la flore, y compris les objets qui te paraissent sans intérêt comme un champignon ou un pauvre petit ver de terre qui tente de regagner le bord d’un rivière. Chez nous on ne chasse que les écureuils et les pangolins, c’est ce que nos ancêtres nous donnent comme gibier parce que les autres animaux, sauf si nous recevons message contraire à travers nos rêves, sont les membres de la famile qui sont partis de ce monde mais qui vivent dans l’autre. Mangerais-tu ton père, ta mère ou ton frère? Je pense que non. Je sais ce que c’est des choses bizarres pour toi que es un enfant élevé dans la ville, ce sont pourtant ces réalités qui ont fait de nous ce que nous sommes. Quant à toi, abstiens-toi de manger la viande de biche et de cerf car, même si tu n’en mourras pas, il y aura quelque chose de toi qui disparaîtra, et ce quelque chose s’appelle la chance, ou plutot la bénédiction . . .

(Excerpt from Lumières de Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou)

Uyghur Author Alat Asem: Backgrounder in French

Brigitte Duzan at chinese-shortstories.com has just posted a detailed introduction to Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木), a bilingual Uyghur writer based in Xinjiang. Here is her translation of the editor’s Afterword to his collection of short stories, 蝴蝶时代 (The Butterfly Era):

Dans le paysage éditorial de la littérature contemporaine chinoise, la littérature du Xinjiang dégage un charme spécifique et n’est assimilable à aucune autre, de quelque autre région. Les écrivains d’ethnies minoritaires du Xinjiang utilisent largement leur langue maternelle, et continuent d’écrire dans cette langue ; néanmoins, elle représente un obstacle à une large diffusion de ces œuvres dans le lectorat chinois. Tout en écrivant dans sa langue maternelle, Alat Asem écrit aussi bien en chinois, et les récits de ce recueil sont écrits dans cette langue, mais dans un style qui traduit une esthétique et un sens spécifique de la langue induisant chez le lecteur une impression de nouveauté. Ses romans ont été bien accueillis par les lecteurs, mais ont également attiré l’attention des critiques et cercles littéraires. La publication de ce livre offre une nouvelle facette de la création littéraire des minorités ethniques du Xinjiang…

For the full text, click here.

Quote of the Week: Qui a peur du wolof?

Si tout écrivain entretient des rapports orageux avec les mots, dans le cas de l’auteur africain, c’est sa langue d’écriture qui est tout entière problématique. On m’a ainsi demandé d’abord: 《Pourquoi ecrivez-vous en français?》, puis après la parution de mon roman Doomi Golo: 《Pourquoi écrivez-vous en wolof?》  

(Senegalese author Boubacar Boris Diop in Le dilemme des écrivains africains: Qui a peur du wolof? (Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2017)

Ahmet Ümit Translation Forum: No Chinese Presence?

A one-day symposium titled “Translating Ahmet Ümit into Foreign Languages” will be held on

Reportedly now working on a thriller set around the Syrian refugee crisis

Reportedly now working on a thriller set around the Syrian refugee crisis

April 7 in Istanbul at Okan University’s Beyoğlu campus. The symposium will be attended by 11 translators from various countries, according to a report in Hurriyet Daily News.

For a Turkish writer of fiction, Ümit (阿赫梅特·乌米特) has been fairly widely translated into Chinese. His novels now available in Chinese include 《伊斯坦堡死亡纪事》(A Memento for Istanbul) and《隐没与谎言》 (Patasana), and translation of The Dervish Gate  《托钵僧之门》is underway at Shanghai Art & Literature Publishing (上海文艺出版社).

According to Hurriyet, among the translators who will join the event are “Rafael Carpintero Ortega (Spanish), Rakesh Jobanputra (English), Sabine Adatepe (German), Barbara La Rosa (Italian), Aneta Matovska (Macedonian), Elen Ivanova (Bulgarian), Nina Rajkovic (Croatian), Thanos Zarangalis (Greek) and Vesna Gazdic (Serbian).”

Based on this report, it appears that none of his Chinese translators will be present.

For insight into which overseas readerships are targeted by the Turkish government, see Soft Power Strategy: Where Does China Figure in Turkey’s Literary Translation Program?

Extract: Alat Asem’s Novel “Confessions of a Jade Lord” (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

An excerpt from the soon-to-be-published novel by Alat Asem,

Confessions of a Jade Lord

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》

19

Rechristening a High-rise

In the midst of his hectic days as minor-character-cum-

Uyghur mafiosi: Alat Asem takes us into the colorful world of Xinjiang’s Uyghur jade traders

stagehand, Exet the Mouse’s magnificent new sobriquet — “Suet Exet” — fails to resonate. Those two sheep were indeed sacrificed in vain. Afterwards, he didn’t bother to invite the jade lords out to drink either; he embraced his bad luck. “There’s a history to your nickname,” says Eysa ASAP to console him, “and history cannot be rewritten.”

Eysa sets to work quickly seeking a middle-man to lobby for talks to buy all twelve stories of the high-rise that belongs to Big Stick Obul, who dug his first bucket of gold in a coal mine. In the end, it’s Silver-tongue Salam, endowed with the gift of gab that can entice buyer and seller to the negotiating table, who does the trick.

Salam’s deal-closing skills were first practiced at the Saturday second-hand bike market. As dust danced in the square, he honed his persona and honeyed trap. With help from splendiferous Time, the money in his pocket prospered year after year, and nourished his heart.

After dining on handheld mutton at a scenic riverside venue, Eysa, Mouse, Obul and Salam address the thorny issue of price.

“Ahem,” coughs Salam before he begins.

Deal or no deal, mutual trust shall prevail.

Roasted, stewed or handheld, mutton remains meat all the same.

Heroes of the world, you have all come today!

The magnificent Monkey King is present today,

And so is our Uyghur Wise Man, Ependim.

It is cool cash that drives human life.

Today’s chop suey is better than tomorrow’s fresh meat;

promises are no good until they are cooked in the pot.

Today’s victory is today’s Paradise!

The big item on today’s agenda is a high-rise built to last. The seller is a person, not a lord, and so is the buyer, who is no one’s servant. My mouth is neither friend nor enemy. It speaks for your mutual interests. Had I ever harbored selfish intentions or betrayed bias toward either party, my tongue could not have secured me this bowl of arbitrator’s rice over the last two decades. The truth behind this, I’m sure you all understand.

The building is new, constructed just five years ago. Buyer and seller both have things itching at their hearts. Each of you knows this. My mouth is a hand that can scratch that itch for you. I do not know the depth of the water, but my sincere hope is that both duck and goose may cross safely. I care not wherefrom my camel guests hail, but obtaining some of the peppercorns, black pepper and ginger root is my goal. ‘Feed your master’s donkeys well and receive a good tip’ is my motto.

Blessed is Eysa Xojayin, and so is our Big Stick Obul, a hero who wrestled his way out of a dark coal pit. Coal Mine Mogul, please quote a price.

The mine owner states his asking price, and the figure is fairly close to the one that Eysa has guessed beforehand. This gives him confidence in the eventual outcome.

Obul is keen to offload his high-rise. It’s a matter of money-laundering, actually. The proceeds from the mines don’t have eyes but they have lips, and he worries that sooner or later that lucre will land him in hot water. Once the building is sold, his mind would be at peace, his tongue confident, and henceforth he could hang out at his leisure.

In the six hours that ensue, Salam’s silver tongue binds the two wicked hearts ever tighter. Eventually the high-rise’s surname changes, and a sizable lot of moolah finds its way into Big Stick Obul’s bank account — an eight-digit sum, in fact. On the ATM card, the dancing digits sigh long and hard; in the freezing underground vault, the bills reminisce over their tainted but exhilarating past.[终]

[Translated by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. For more information about Alat Asem, click here.]

Boubacar Boris Diop and His Wolof Publication Initiative

Boubacar Boris Diop, Senegalese author of Doomi Golo which he wrote in Wolof (and later translated into French), has launched the “Céytu” initiative to publish major works of francophone literature in Wolof. The language is spoken by about 11m people in Sénégal,Mariama Bâ Bataaxal bu gudde nii Mauritania and the Gambia. In this interview with Anne Bocandé of africultures.com, he explains the three works he has begun with:

Une si longue lettre [好长的一封信] de Mariama Bâ s’imposait par sa valeur propre mais aussi par l’exceptionnelle traduction, qui existait déjà, de Mame Younousse Dieng et Arame Fal ; L’Africain de Jean-Marie Le Clézio, est un tour de force en ce sens qu’il reste une confession à la fois intime et d’une ahurissante précision documentaire ; la pièce de Césaire sur l’assassinat de Lumumba a beau dater des années 70, elle reste actuelle quand on pense, par exemple, au destin tragique d’un Thomas Sankara, aux événements du Burkina et même au rôle plus que douteux de l’ONU dans des événements allant du génocide des Tutsi du Rwanda à la Syrie ou la Libye. J’avais une folle envie de traduire Une saison au Congo et maintenant, je souhaite faire jouer la pièce dans les grandes villes du Sénégal.

To read the full interview, click here.

To visit Céytu: Littérature en Wolof, click here.