readers who pick up an English translation of a book by Mo Yan, Wang Shuo, Su Tong, or any other contemporary Chinese novelist are, more likely than not, reading Goldblatt. “It’s all my words,” he says. “If they’re reading a translated novel, they’re reading the translation and hope that the translator got the story, style, and characters right.”
Because Chinese and English are completely distinct languages, with no history or linguistic roots in common, the work of any two translators of the same text will vary widely. Goldblatt is considered by authors, scholars, and colleagues to be the most trustworthy interpreter of Chinese, as well as the most prolific; to date, he’s translated more than 50 books.
Salman Rushdie writes in response to Pankaj Mishra‘s criticism of Rushdie’s criticism of Mo Yan, calling Mishra’s a “satanic view of human society,” to which Mishra responds that it’s easy “to upbraid a Chinese writer from afar.”
Hock G. Tjoa reviews Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum: “Some people love Goya’s paintings, especially those he did of Spanish royalty … But it is difficult to pay heed when there is a Guernica in the same room.”
At BBC Radio “Howard Goldblatt and novelist and film maker Xiaolu Guo discuss the nature of Chinese literature and how much Mo Yan and his fellow contemporary Chinese novelists can teach us about life inside this emerging world force.”
James Kidd at SCMP reviews Sandalwood Death and says, “Like so many of its characters and indeed China itself, the moral of the story is often hard to grasp … Those like Salman Rushdie who dismiss Mo as simply a ‘patsy’ of an authoritarian government would do well to read this complex, and subtle novel that illuminates the darkest corners of power, control and political violence.”
Yunte Huang 黃运特 reviews Pow!: “While the jury is still out as to whether the Chinese writer Mo Yan, who is said to have been toeing the party line, truly deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature, there is little doubt that his novel POW!—with its Rabelaisian carnivalesque language and surrealist narration—rightly belongs among the best of world literature.”
The Complete Review reviews Sandalwood Death, giving it an A and calling it “sensational (in every sense of the word) storytelling.”
The Boston Globe reviews Pow! and Sandalwood Death, praising Mo Yan’s work as “not realistic. It is magical, Rabelasian, satirical, steeped in blood, and obsessed with food in uncomfortable ways,” but they don’t know how to refer to Chinese people by their family name.
Chad Post of Three Percent is excited to read Sandalwood Death and gushes over the trailer.
And Dylan Suher reviews Pow! and Sandalwood Death: “There are those who are blessed with an unerring (and to others, infuriating) faith in their own view of the world … For us—the rest of us—there is literature.”
Tablet: A Read on Jewish Life, has a feature on Howard Goldblatt, translator of Nobel Prize-winner Mo Yan 莫言 and many other modern & contemporary fiction writers in Chinese. Here’s how it begins:
“They say translators are frustrated writers,” Howard Goldblatt explained as he waited impatiently in his blue stick-shift BMW behind a silver sedan. “I’m not a frustrated writer. I’m a frustrated Formula-1 driver.”
Goldblatt, 73, is the foremost Chinese-English translator in the world. Over the course of his almost 40-year career, he has translated more than 50 books, edited several anthologies of Chinese writings; received two NEA fellowships, a Guggenheim grant and nearly every other translation award. In the first four years of the Man Asian Literary Prize, three of the winners were translations by Goldblatt. John Updike, writing in The New Yorker, said that “American translators of contemporary Chinese fiction appear to be the lonely province of one man, Howard Goldblatt.”
Click the image above for the link.
A fascinating talk by Howard Goldblatt about translating Mo Yan 莫言 and other modern & contemporary Chinese authors, moderated by Joseph Allen for the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota. Click on the image below to link to the videos.
Sandalwood Death 檀香刑, by Mo Yan 莫言
translated by Howard Goldblatt
University of Oklahoma Press
For all the different styles of play in different countries and continents, football is a game whose rules can be universally applied. North Korea plays Mexico with a Swedish referee and despite one or two contested offside decisions a result is recorded and one team can pass to the next round without too much discussion. But can we feel so certain when the Swedish referee judges poems from those two countries that he will pick the right winner? Or even that there is a “right” winner? Or even a competition? The Mexican did not write his or her poems with the idea of getting a winning decision over the North Korean, or with a Swedish referee in mind. At least we hope not.
Conversation with Howard Goldblatt
Time: 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Location: 140 Nolte Center for Continuing Education
Join us for a conversation between acclaimed translator Howard Goldblatt and Joseph Allen. Professor Goldblatt is best known as the translator of Mo Yan, the 2012 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Howard Goldblatt was a Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Notre Dame 2002-11 and is a translator of numerous works of contemporary Chinese (mainland China & Taiwan) fiction, including The Taste of Apples by Huang Chunming and The Execution of Mayor Yin by Chen Ruoxi. His translations of Mo Yan’s work include Life and Death are Wearing Me Out (2008), Big Breasts and Wide Hips (2005), and The Republic of Wine (2000). Joseph Allen is a Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota. His publications include Taipei: City of Displacements (University of Washington Press, 2012) and Sea of Dreams: The Selected Writings of Gu Cheng (New Directions 2005).