Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chinese authors' best reader

Howard Goldblatt is considered the foremost expert in contemporary Chinese literature.

The professor at Notre Dame has translated Chinese novels, poems and short stories for over 25 years and one of his latest is Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem which was officially launched today in English.

However, when he was young, Goldblatt didn't know what to do with his life. He had a great time in college, but after he graduated he realized he had no skills, no knowledge.

So he signed up for the navy and was posted to Taiwan.

He admits he had fun there are a young naval officer. He didn't learn any Chinese at that time. But he had a second posting there and that's when he decided to learn the language and realized he was pretty good at it and left the navy to study Chinese in Taiwan.

He returned to the States and again didn't know what to do. Someone suggested graduate school so he applied to 25 schools and only one accepted him.

He also discovered he loved reading novels and so he wanted to find a way to combine the two. That's when he started translating and has passionately continued working on it ever since.

Goldblatt says it's a solitary job, surrounded by the text and resources, which are usually more texts. But it's his love of the language that thrills him about the job. He loves complicated characters and Chinese calligraphy and picked up speaking it quite easily.

For him, his biggest responsibility is to the reader, then the text and author. And because Chinese and English are so disparate, he grapples with the language and the best way to phrase it into English all the time. That's what makes translation an ever evolving process. He consults the authors constantly, asking questions or what exactly they meant in a certain passage and that helps him write it better in English.

While Goldblatt is very humble, constantly fretting over the quality of his translations, he does confidently say that he is their best reader. A translator reads every single word. And if something is not logically correct or grammatically incorrect he will see it.

I've only read the English version of Wolf Totem and the writing was so good, that I can only imagine the original Chinese version is even better.

So hats off to Goldblatt for another wonderful translation that will hopefully entice even more English readers to contemporary Chinese literature and more.


Anonymous said...

Like contemporary chinese art, contemporary chinese literature is so hard to find in north america. i hope goldblatt is promoted on this side of the pond.

ks said...

in vancouver the most famous canadian reader in chinese is professor jan wall of simon fraser university. he is well versed in mandarin. his pronounciation of mandarin is so accurate that makes us chinese red faced. recently there was a gathering at the asia centre at u.b.c. to recite some of the poems written by chia-ying yeh, professor emeritus in chinese literature. the poems are selected from a book of collected poems -" ode to the lotus" translated into chinese by tommy tao, a lawyer friend of mine. perhaps jan wall and howard goldblatt should meet one day. they belong to a rare breed. china should treasure talents like these two individuals. they will contribute to the understanding of the chinese mind and phillosophy the basis of cultural exchanage and hopefully to world peace.