Monday, March 16, 2009

Untranslatable Chinese Novel?

Over at Paper Republic, Bruce Humes posted about Jess Row's unflattering review of Yu Hua's Brothers in The New York Times Book Review, and Row responded to the post. Row believes that Brothers is, essentially, untranslatable for an Anglophone audience:

The larger point I wanted to make with this review was that part of the problem with the reception of a novel like this in the Anglophone world is the level of fundamental ignorance here about basic touchstones of Chinese culture. If I may, I’d like to illustrate this with a very small example from Brothers. On page 615 of the uncorrected galleys, which I read for my review, there is a sentence, “Who knew that Baldy Li was such a Lin Daiyu?” I seized on this in my review as evidence that Yu Hua was building a parallel between the love triangles in Brothers and in Hongloumeng: a parallel that would be obvious to a Chinese reader but which would mean nothing at all to a typical Anglophone reader. This, I would say, is exactly the kind of problem that no translator can fix without an elaborate, and counterproductive, scholarly apparatus. When I saw the final published edition of Brothers, the line had been changed to “Who knew that Baldy Li was such a sentimental heroine?” That, to me, seems to be the story of this whole translation: it’s trying to find English equivalents for Chinese concepts that just don’t resonate with readers who have no exposure to Chinese culture.
Interesting. (via Literary Saloon)

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