In the Aug 2014 edition of The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, Chinese-to-literary translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin (native Chinese speaker) and Howard Goldblatt (native English speaker) reveal how they work together:
Sylvia does the first draft, placing emphasis more on conveying the meaning of the original text than on finding the exact words/phrases in the translation. The rough quality of the text, necessitated by speed, is easily compensated for by first-impression impulses that capture meaning beyond the words. Howard takes over then, reading the first draft against the original, marking spots with different interpretations, possible translations, or ambiguities, and checking reference material where necessary.
This is fascinating stuff, and I recommend you read the entire text (see below for the link).
But when both translators are highly fluent in the source language, that doesn’t mean that the first draft is necessarily carried out just by the native speaker of the source text.
For example, here is how Jane Weizhen Pan (native Chinese speaker) and Martin
Each of us would translate alternate parts of each chapter and swop our raw drafts. Our raw drafts of these parts would be reviewed, changed (sometimes ruthlessly) by the other party. Every day, before working on a new draft or reviewing Martin’s draft, I would read the revised translation done the day before and then the entire chapter again.
Since I was in Australia and he in Hong Kong, we went back and forth over these changes and
commented on each other’s translation over Skype. We then left it to “brew” while working on the other parts of the chapter. The “revised version” would be reviewed again once we finished translating that entire chapter. We reviewed our translation of the entire book twice before sending to the editor.
The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation is published by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. For the full text of The Collaborative Approach, click here, and look for The Collaborative Approach in the Contents Page.
Take Wang Gang’s 《英格力士》, for instance. This semi-autobiographical novel set in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution was snapped up by Penguin, and rendered in English by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan as . . . English. See my Growing up Han in Fictional Xinjiang for a combined book review and interview with the translators. The novel has since also appeared in French (English) and Spanish (El profesor de inglés) .
I assume the purchase and publication of Wang Gang’s work was a market-driven decision by Penguin. But late last year, his novel was launched in Turkish at the Istanbul Book Fair. The driver in that instance may have been somewhat more political. It was one of just two Chinese novels that were translated into Turkish and published in time for the fair thanks to a joint project subsidized by Turkey and China. The other was a relatively unknown work by Tie Ning (How long is forever?), who happens to be favorably placed; she’s top honcho at the state-run China Writers Association.
Given that only a handful of contemporary Chinese novels have appeared in Turkish, I can’t help but ponder the symbolism of choosing a Xinjiang-born Han author’s novel as an introduction to 21st-century Chinese literature. The novel is set in Xinjiang, the home of some ten million Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, traditionally Muslim people who have ancient ties with the Turkish. But the novel itself focuses almost exclusively on the Han community there; there are no Uyghur male characters in it.
Irony of ironies, Wang Gang’s novel was translated from the English-language English, not his Chinese original. The first casualty may have been the book’s title in Turkish that couldn’t be much more mundane: Ingilizce, the proper Turkish term for the English language. The original novel was entitled 英格力士, however, which is closer to a phonetic transcription of the word as you would find it in a dictionary, e.g., “ing-glish”, a more notable title that positions the word as alien to the speaker. As you can see from the Spanish and French titles above, Ingilizce is a more orthodox translation from the, uh, English.
At any rate, keen to see how a novel about the Cultural Revolution would be rendered in Turkish, I commissioned an English-to-Turkish literary translator here in Istanbul to review the Turkish book as well as comment on how it compares with the English rendition. The review—in English—follows below. Here’s her Turkish review Çin Edebiyatından Kültür Devrimine Ergen Gözüyle Bakış: Wang Gang’ın İngilizce Romanı .
Over the last few months a number of reporters have e-mailed to ask about the state of Chinese literature in translation, particularly in light of Mo Yan’s winning the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. But most cite just a handful of authors and works in their questions— and Shanghai Baby, translated by yours truly over a decade ago!—is often one of them.
My advice to them is simple: do your homework, please! For starters, check out Paper-Republic. All sorts of goodies over there, including a list of translated Chinese fiction (and poetry) published in 2012, Chinese fiction published in 2013, and a Translator Directory too.
Here at Altaic Storytelling, we focus on writing by & about non-Han peoples, particularly those which speak an Altaic language, but not exclusively. And it is interesting to note that translated fiction with an “ethnic” twist has been building up steam for a while, pre-dating the Mo Yan craze, in fact.
To my mind, the impetus for the increased profile of Chinese literature in the outside world began when China was named “Guest of Honor” at the 2009 Frankfurt Int’l Book Fair. Chinese authors and publishers socialized with their European counterparts—many for the first time—and important contacts and contracts resulted, with the books born of this schmoozing finally hitting the market 2-3 years later.
In China is Focusing on the Fringes published in March this year, literary translator Nicky Harman presciently pointed out that “independent–minded Chinese writers are becoming seriously interested in the geographical fringes of ‘China proper’, drawing on its people, their traditions and conflicts at work.” And as you can see below, foreign publishers are interested. When you consider that over the last few years just 15 or so Chinese novels have appeared in English each year—ethnic or no—this table looks a bit more impressive.
Indeed. So, to show this more graphically—and perhaps even to save myself a bit of hassle in recreating the wheel for the next journalist who wants to pick my brains—I’ve put together this table. If you know something I should add to it, including current projects that will be published in 2014, please let me know!