“Confessions of a Jade Lord”: Synopsis + related links

My co-translation of Uyghur author Alat Asem’s novel set in Xinjiang has been published.  Here is a brief synopsis of sorts, taken straight off the book’s back cover:

Confessions of a Jade Lord

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》(阿拉提·阿斯木  著)


“Tell Eysa that he cannot live by drifting in the wind.

He should return and live in his own skin.

Only then will he be my son.” 


To get his greedy hands on nine hefty chunks of priceless creamy white, “mutton-fat” jade, Eysa and his gang administer a merciless beating to Xali, a fellow trader. Fearing arrest, Eysa flees Xinjiang for Shanghai where a plastic surgeon fits him with a state-of-the-art mask that allows him to return home, initially undetected even by his kin. But as his feud with Xali deepens — it emerges Xali was only maimed, not killed — Eysa gradually realizes the futility of attempting to amass a fortune under Time’s mute gaze.

Decades of double-digit growth have spawned a generation of nouveau riche in the booming 21st-century metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, spurring desire for fine jade, a traditional badge of wealth, and kick starting a modern-day “jade rush.” But supply is jealously guarded by the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uyghur whose homeland — Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, a land of oases and massive desert once crisscrossed by camel caravans — remains the ultimate source for milk-white suet jade.

Confessions of a Jade Lord immerses us in an underworld peopled by gangsters with their penchant for firewater-fueled storytelling and philosophical reverie, appetite for Uyghur delicacies such as laghman hand-pulled noodles and whole roasted lamb, fierce loyalty to family and aghines, and a willingness to unsheathe their daggers when honor, brotherhood or jade require.

Alat Asem’s fiction is a Uyghur universe where Han Chinese rarely figure. His hallmarks are serial womanizers — real hanzi who piss standing, not squatting — monikers that belittle, and a hybrid lingo with an odd but appealing Central Asian flavor.

Alat Asem is Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, Writer of the Month (Jan 2019)

For detailed bilingual information about the novel and its author, please visit Alat Asem’s《时间悄悄的嘴脸》: Guide to Related Links.

For a brief English excerpt from Confessions of a Jade Lord, visit here.

Two reviews are also up online now: One that ran in Turkey’s Daily Sabah, and another by a bilingual reviewer who read both the English and Chinese novels. To access the latter, you will need to go here, scroll down and click on the reviewer’s name, Cuilin Sang.

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Quote of the Week: Travels of a Linguistic Nomad

My attachment to my mother tongue is emotional; my attachment to English is cerebral. I feel like I need both to balance myself. Over time, I have also realized that if there is melancholy, longing, sadness in my writing, I find it easier to express these in Turkish.

But when it comes to irony, satire, sarkiness, I find it easier in English.  The word “irony” does not even exist in Turkish.

(Elif Şafak in Travels of a Linguistic Nomad)

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Quote of the Week: Jerry Pinto on the Task of a Translator

It grieves me some times to hear people say: But you must have lost so much of the flavor and color of the original when you took it across to English.

Of course you did…

So to begin again.
You love a book for what it is.
You make it into another language.
You unmake the book.
You must now seek to make sure that what you loved has come through.

This means a balancing act between what it was and how you loved it and what you are making it and how you must get other people to love it.

(Excerpted from “Time for polyphony” : Jerry Pinto on the Task of a Translator)

2018 Round-up: AfroLit in Chinese Translation

2018 Round-up:

AfroLit in Chinese Translation

By Bruce Humes

What a difference a year makes.

In 2017, readers in mainland China keen to experiment and read newly translated novels from Africa could choose from just 8 titles, all from the English or French, and weighted in favor of high-

Mia Couto’s “Terra Sonâmbula”: One of several Lusophone novels to be rendered in Chinese within 2018.

profile “diaspora” authors writing from abroad, such as Chimamanda Adichie and Alain Mabanckou. And 3 of those books were written by Nigerians.

As 2018 comes to an end, according to the bilingual database African Writing in Chinese Translation, there are 143 titles dating from the sixties through today — mainly novels, but a handful of short story and poetry collections too — from which to choose.

The 2018 batch of new titles — 13 in all — looks rather more varied. To wit:

  • The majority were penned in Portuguese or Arabic
  • Four of the authors hail from Lusophone countries (Angola, Mozambique), three from countries bordering on the Mediterranean, and the others are natives of sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa)
  • Novels, short stories and drama are all represented

Variety aside, another good sign is that by and large, the newer titles have been translated from their original language, in this case, mainly Portuguese and Arabic. I have not confirmed this with the publishers, but various online entries indicates that several of the translators hold advanced degrees in these tongues, and have translated several books from them.

China-based publishers are notorious for a misleading practice: the nationality of the author — not necessarily the language of the source text — is often noted on the spine or copyright page. Thus the reader may well believe she is reading a novel translated direct from the Swahili, when the source text is actually the English rendition of a Swahili original. The reason: a dearth of translators from certain languages, and often, the desire to cut costs and shorten time-to-market by translating from the English.

Tawfiq al-Hakim’s “People of the Cave”: Arguably Egypt’s first script destined for production on a stage.

As detailed recently in Can Literary Exports Change Chinese Perceptions of Africa?, there have been “three waves of African literary imports”:

The first, which emerged in the 1980s, was ideologically driven. Empowered by Beijing’s policy of promoting solidarity with the Third World and newly independent nations, state-run imprints like the Foreign Literature Publishing House translated and published a substantial number of African works such as those by the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Senegalese poet (and former president) Léopold Sédar Senghor, and the Algerian writer Mouloud Mammeri. Anthologies of translated African folktales for children even appeared.

During the ’90s and 2000s, imported African literature was top-heavy with winners of globally recognized awards such as the Nobel Prize in Literature. Imports slowed and tended to focus less on the works of socialist-inspired thinkers in favor of high-profile Nobel laureates such as J. M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, both with South African roots, and Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz.

By comparison, the 2018 crop appears refreshingly distinct. Admittedly, there are two authors on the list, Chimamanda Adichie (a recidivist) and Mia Couto, who can be counted on to sell well because of their notoriety. But they have proven themselves mainly in the global marketplace; they are not Nobel

Laureates or Booker Prize Winners as were a few of the first African authors — such as Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka —  who were subsequently widely published

The latest from “African diaspora” writer Chimamanda Adichie

in Chinese  (Still Stuck on “Things Fall Apart?“).

Several of the 13 new titles are translations of works that were actually published decades ago, and thus were obviously not chosen for their current popularity. They include People of the Cave, a play by Egypt’s Tawfiq al-Hakim, first published in 1933; Secret Lives and Other Stories by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, known for his insistence on writing in his mother tongue Kikuyu, published in 1975; and a short story collection featuring 14 South African authors writing in the years leading up to the beginning of black-majority rule in 1994.

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Quote of the Week: Fear & Loathing in Xinjiang

…what we are witnessing in the XUAR is a new form of ethnic cleansing that draws from all of these mass atrocities of the past while benefiting from the technologies of control available to states in the 21st century. It is a form of ethnic cleansing where the object of purging is not physical territory, but the human terrain of the ethnic group itself. Whereas ethnic cleansing during the breakup of Yugoslavia sought to cleanse a territory of other ethnicities in Xinjiang, the Chinese state appears to be trying to cleanse Uighurs of their “Uighurness.” A recent document on China’s state policy in the XUAR makes these intentions clear, noting that the goal with regards to the Uighurs is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”

(Excerpted from Fear and Loathing in Xinjiang: Ethnic Cleansing in the 21st Century, by Sean R. Roberts. He is an associate professor of the practice of international affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.)

War crimes in Congo-Kinshasha, and a report gathering mold in a NY office drawer

As I speak to you, a report is gathering mold in an office drawer in New York. It was drafted following a professional investigation into war crimes and human rights violations perpetrated in Congo. This investigation explicitly names the victims, the

Denis Mukwege: Founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo-Kinshasha, where he specializes in the treatment of women who have been raped by armed rebels.

places and the dates, but leaves the perpetrators nameless.

This Mapping Report by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights describes no fewer than 617 war crimes and crimes against humanity and perhaps even crimes of genocide.

What is the world waiting for before taking this into account? There is no lasting peace without justice. Yet, justice is not negotiable.

Let us have the courage to take a critical and impartial look at what has been going on for too long in the Great Lakes Region.

Let us have the courage to reveal the names of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity to prevent them from continuing to plague the region.

Let us have the courage to recognize our past mistakes.

Let us have the courage to tell the truth, to remember and commemorate.

(Excerpted from the acceptance speech of Nobel Laureate Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize, in Oslo on December 10, 2018)

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Newsbrief: December 2018

See our 2018 Round-up: AfroLit in Chinese Translation for a summary of African fiction — novels, short story and poetry collections, and drama — published in Chinese over the last year.

Wax Print, a documentary by British-Nigerian filmmaker and dressmaker Aiwan Obinyan: From the villages of Indonesia to the cotton fields of America, from European industrial mills to the bustling markets and sewing schools of West Africa, the story of one fabric and how it came to symbolize a continent, its people and their struggle for freedom. Watch the official trailer. Meanwhile, China’s incursion into the wax print trade — from counterfeiting to establishing legitimate wax print factories — further threatens the Africanness of the fabric.

France looks set to make good on Macron’s promise to return Africa’s stolen art and artifacts, but this will take time and requires changes to French law. In a piece by Lynsey Chutel (African Art), some fairly astounding numbers are cited to help quantify how thoroughly Europe looted Africa’s artistic heritage during the colonial era: there are reportedly 90,000 African artworks in French museums, 180,000 in a single Belgian museum, and 37,000 in one museum in Austria.

Quartz Africa reports that South Africa has banned a tongue-in-cheek commercial that imagines Africans colonizing Europe. Personally, I kinda liked it. Click here to see the article and watch the ad.

Cassava Republic co-founder Dr. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf: Brittle Paper African 2018 Literary Person of the Year

The short list for Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature has been announced. Founded in 2014 by Dr. Lizzy Attree and Dr. Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Cornell University), the competition has the express goal of recognizing writing in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages.  The winners will be chosen from the shortlisted writers. The winners will be announced in January 2019. Shortlisted works and authors (Tangazo la Orodha Fupi):


  • Mungu Hakopeshwi a novel by Zainab Alwi Baharoon (Tanzania)
  • Kilinge cha Hukumu ya Dhambi by Yasini Hamisi Shekibulah (Tanzania)
  • Makovu ya Uhai by Shisia Wasilwa (Kenya)


  • Wino wa Dhahabu by Bashiru Abdallah (Tanzania)
  • Moto wa Kifuu by Jacob Ngumbau Julius (Kenya)
  • Sauti Yangu by Mohamed Idrisa Haji (Tanzania)


At the festival: Author of “If I Stay Right Here,” Chwayita Ngamlana

The Abantu Book Festival is underway in Soweto during Dec 5-9. Click here to download the full festival program. Visit here for pix & bios of 55 participating authors.

Nigerian Writer Adichie: “I do not want to use my art as an armour of neutrality”

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been awarded the Pen Pinter Prize, which is given to an outstanding writer who shows “the real truth of our lives and our societies.” Here is an excerpt from her Oct 9 acceptance speech, as quoted in The Guardian:

“But my writing gave me a platform to speak about issues that I have always cared about,” she [Adichie] said. “”I do not want to use my art as an armour of neutrality behind which to hide”. I am a writer and I am a citizen, and I see my speaking out on social issues as a responsibility of citizenship. I am struck by how often this speaking out is met, in Nigeria, not with genuine engagement, whether to agree or disagree, but with a desire to silence me. A journalist once helpfully summed it up for me: people don’t like it when you talk about feminism, they just want you to shut up and write.”

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Quote of the Week: Yan Lianke on the virtues of literary translation

In an ideal world, I want to write for my countrymen, but I know that’s not possible and likely won’t be possible in my lifetime . . . That’s why I’m so grateful that translation has offered me a lifeline.

(Chinese author Yan Lianke (阎连科) as cited in The New Yorker’s Yan Lianke’s Forbidden Satires of China)

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Newsbriefs: September 2018

Interview with Alain Mabanckou : La langue française c’est la langue de la dictature.

Teju Cole on excellence in writing: I met Philip Roth a couple of times. I didn’t particularly know him, but I was invited to his funeral and I went. While I was standing by his graveside . . . an old lady came
up to me and said, 
I’m so glad you came. Just before Philip died, the last time I saw him, he wanted to discuss your essay about James Baldwin and he particularly liked that part. . . she’s telling me this while I was looking at the man’s coffin inside the grave with some handfuls of earth on it. A couple of things happened there for me. One is that I was immensely moved. Another thing that occurred to me was: whatever thing that got me to that point, I need to keep doing it to the best of my ability. 

Michael Orthofer reviews Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka, a novel based on a real-life figure, also known as Shaka Zulu, who lived from ca. 1787 to 1828: While Chaka begins as an almost psychological study into what might have made Chaka the man — and ruthless militarist — he became, in focusing on his horrible and numbing childhood, Mofolo nevertheless can’t resist providing a supernatural explanation to his success. Chaka’s powers — even medicine-enhanced — do also come from within, but Mofolo makes Isanusi and his interventions essential to Chaka’s success (if one can ultimately call it that …).

Low-cost hair extensions: When salons do not openly advertise openly the provenance of their bundles, China is the often unspoken source of most natural and synthetic hair circulating in Africa.

Tanzania clamps down on flow of data about the country, writes Abdi Latif Dahir: In a bill tabled in parliament this week, the government aims to criminalize the collection, analysis, and dissemination of any data without first obtaining authorization from the country’s chief statistician. The key amendments to the Statistics Act also prohibit researchers from publicly releasing any data “which is intended to invalidate, distort, or discredit official statistics.” Any person who does anything to the contrary could merit a fine of not less than 10 million shillings ($4,400), a jail term of three years, or both.

Ndugu Maillu points out the elephant in the room — an unwillingness to publish in indigenous languages: What is the future of literature in vernacular in Kenya when all the publishers have developed set minds that publishing in vernacular is not worth any commercial effort? Even the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation does not touch publishing in vernacular despite being a national cultural foundation. Similarly, the Kenya Literature Bureau is allergic to it although it is a government institution. Only during colonial days did Kenya Literature Bureau publish some books in vernacular. Only the Bible, supported by missionaries, has been translated and published in vernacular.