A Little More Mo Yan

The Straights Times Asia Reporton how Mo Yan’s “Nobel win gets readers excited about Chinese lit” (the site is paywalled, but for excerpts, see Paper Republic)

Bruce Humes on Mo Yan and Chinese understanding of Chinese literature in translation:

This renewed interest in defining what constitutes a “good” literary translation comes in the wake of the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature to China’s Mo Yan (莫言).  Chinese translation professionals—and government officials charged with expanding the country’s soft power overseas—are searching for lessons to be drawn from Mo Yan’s resounding success.

One key lesson could be that China’s customary academic emphasis on word-for-word translation, in the belief it yields the greatest accuracy, doesn’t actually fly, marketing-wise. The article points out that Mo Yan’s English translator, Howard Goldblatt, edited freely as he translated (连译带改) Mo Yan’s Garlic Ballads (天堂蒜薹之歌), and that the German publisher chose to base its translation on the English too.

And Anjum Hasan in “Chinese Whispers” on how Chinese literature looks from India:

When Mo Yan won the latest Nobel Prize for Literature, I was struck by a curiosity that the prize is perhaps meant to trigger: I hadn’t read Mo Yan and was wholly ignorant about contemporary Chinese fiction. So I ordered his novella Change (2010) from Seagull Books. The title had been put out as part of their ‘What Was Communism’ series, with a cover designed in-house that prominently mentioned the win. Change (and Mo’s Pow!, also published by Seagull) turned out to be the only examples I could find of Chinese fiction independently sourced and published in India. Most Chinese literature available to us, I discovered in the coming months as I looked for more to read from that country, travels here through Western channels—either reprints of Western editions or these editions themselves, priced for Indian markets.

This piece in its entirety is one of my favorite takes on Chinese fiction in a contemporary global context. Too often our discussions of world literature, in Chinese as well as English, assume the centrality of the New York – London publishing axis; here, I found the view from India particularly illuminating.

One thought on “A Little More Mo Yan

  1. I too read and enjoyed the piece on how Chinese literature is viewed from India.

    But here in Turkey, it’s not quite so easy to hold an informed opinion on contemporary Chinese literature, because precious little has been translated into Turkish. During my 3 months here, first in Ankara, then Antalya and now Istanbul, I have visited 15 or so bookstores, but have only seen one Chinese novel in Turkish translation: Mo Yan’s “Red Sorghum” (Kızıl Darı Tarlaları). By contrast, I’ve often seen works by Japanese authors such as Kawabata Yasunari and Mishima Yukio.

    Interest in Chinese fiction should pick up, however, with China being the featured country at the Nov 2-10 “Istanbul Int’l Book Fair.” For details on China’s presence at the fair, see: http://www.bruce-humes.com/?p=8963

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