Literature in Translation, With Thanks to Chinua Achebe
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Literature in Translation, With Thanks to Chinua Achebe

Literature in Translation, With Thanks to Chinua Achebe

Literature TranslationWith the passing of noted Nigerian author Chinua Achebe back in March, we are aptly reminded of how powerful literature can be in transforming the world. We have a soft spot for literature in translation. Besides being our introduction to some of the greatest thinkers and dreamers on the planet, we think the translation of fictional works brings our diverse experiences together. We’re better for it.

So with heartfelt thanks to the departed Achebe, here’s a review of recent literary translation news from the past month.

China Reads Joyce

The Wall Street Journal has reported that a Chinese translation of James Joyce’s controversial Finnegan’s Wake has become a mainland hit. The book “sold out the first, 8,000-volume run shortly after it was released in December” and even enjoyed a brief but meteoric rise in the bestseller lists.

That’s as much a surprise to the book industry as it is to its translator, Dai Congrong, an associate professor and vice dean of the department of Chinese language and literature at Fudan University in Shanghai. The Journal quotes her as saying, “One has to admit that there is a group of people who bought the book out of curiosity and vanity, but there is also a large group of people who bought the book because they really want to appreciate it.”

Syria, Unsilenced

As the conflict in Syria wages on, interest in diverse, native perspectives on the crisis increases in Western media. How timely then that Nihad Sirees 2004 novel The Silence and the Roar was translated into English by Max Weiss and published last month by Other Press. The book is about an author banned from publishing because he refuses to write propaganda on behalf of the ruling government.

The translation was one of six awarded the 2013 English PEN for Writing in Translation for its contribution to inter-cultural understanding and the promotion of freedom of expression. A nod to The Independent for its review.

An Epic Thailand

The Association of Asian Studies has awarded this year’s winner of the A.L. Becker Southeast Asian Literature in Translation Prize to Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit for their translation of The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen.

The epic translation, a 7-year-long project covering 960 pages, brings to English readers one of the most famous — and most challenging — classics of Thai literature. It is a great folk epic of love and war. The Becker Prize was established in 2011 to recognize English translations from works published throughtout the Southeast Asian region.

We tip our hat to for their link to the Bangkok Posts story, where you can read more about the translators and the work itself.

A Life in Poetry

And, finally, we congratulate poet and translator Marie Ponsot who, at 91, was presented with the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The prolific translator of more than 30 French novels, Ponsot was among four others who were each awarded $100,000 for their lifetime achievement in the genre, reports the New York Times.