Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 3:30 PM
Julia Lovell teaches at the University of London's Birkbeck College in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology and has translated Serve the People by Yan Lianke and Lust; Caution by Eileen Chang amongst other Chinese literary works.
Lovell's new book of translation is modern fiction forefather Lu Xun's The Real Story of Ah Q and Other Tales of China, published by Penguin.
Soon available in shops in the mainland and abroad, an excerpt of the Preface can be read at the China Beat. Below is a Q&A with the translator (note: Eric Abrahamsen at Paper Republic also interviewed Julia Lovell).
Danwei: What significance do you think Lu Xun's work has for the younger generations of Chinese people today?
Lu Xun's complete fiction. Photo: Penguin
Danwei: When you were approached to translate the book, did you factor in how it would appeal to English-speaking audiences? Did you think that it could appeal? Once you have translated the work, was there the feeling that you'd helped to bridge the gap between something that was distinctly culturally Chinese (Lu Xun) and a modern, 21st century western audience?
I thought that Lu Xun could appeal to English-speaking readers for a few reasons. First of all, for his acute commentary on the era that he lived through - to read Lu Xun is to capture a snapshot of late imperial and early Republican China. (As we all know, this year is a big birthday year for China, and Lu Xun’s scepticism is still a useful antidote to the fizzy hype that came out of the PRC on the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution.) Secondly, he’s a sharp stylist, with a command of tone (surrrealism, irony, black humour) that gives him an appeal beyond China specialists. Anyone who works on modern Chinese culture encounters Lu Xun – he’s kind of James Joyce and Dickens rolled into one. And I would suggest that anyone who wants to get a handle on modern Chinese literature and culture － and particularly on the sense of crisis that gripped 20th-century writers and thinkers – can’t do better than start with Lu Xun, because his characters and themes have established themselves so firmly in China's national imagination.
But as to whether I managed to convey all this in the translation – I don’t know; I’ll have to see what readers think. My mum told me she quite liked it.
Danwei: In terms of working on his language, parts of the fiction were in classical Chinese ("Nostalgia" for example), and other parts in bai hua (vernacular). How did you create a sense of continuity between the two literary styles, and do you think it would be difficult for readers to transfer between the two?
Danwei: Was it a relief to be done with the book?
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