• Jan 14, 2018
    The Agent’s Battle, the Translator’s Cultivation: Notes on “Secrets of Chinese-to-English Translation: The Arts of Translation and Editing”
    by Chen Yu-Haw ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    First published on November 30, 2017 by Readmoo News


    Once more, the annual Taipei Rights Workshop convened in our capital city. Its introductory event, held at the Yueyue Bookstore, was a lecture and discussion on the translation and sale of Chinese works of literature abroad. Interestingly, both non-Chinese guest speakers (one from Germany, the other from America) discussed their passion for the poetic charm and beauty of Chinese literature in fluent, Beijing-accented Chinese.


    From Discovery to Cooperation: The Agent’s Art of the Deal

    “My Chinese is not…particularly good,” stated Lena Petzke, her words chosen with humility and care. Lena came from Germany to China with an undergraduate background in Chinese to get a Master’s degree at Renmin University; she is now an acquisitions editor for Penguin-Random House North Asia, in charge of English translations of Chinese titles.


    Having already published the translated works of literary heavyweights like Mo Yan, Bi Feiyu, and Ge Fei, Lena’s primary responsibility is acquisition and rights negotiation: “From title selection, to purchasing rights, to sourcing translation and editing…all the way to critical aspects of communication and manuscript editing.” Lena’s description of her work begins with the search for Chinese titles that might make waves on foreign markets, or that bear canonical literary merit. Yet in her view, the most difficult aspect of selling Chinese literature in translation may very well be achieving proper communication between author, publisher, editor, and translator.

    “[We consider] differences in sentence structure and meaning, along with whether or not to add explanatory text to the translation, and the accuracy of the style….” Simply translating a Chinese novel back to front, sentence-for-sentence will not necessarily make it saleable. The translator may create new orders from language the author wishes to preserve, the source publisher may not agree to small details on the contract, or any number of other situations may arise that require Lena to move repeatedly between author, translator, and editor as a negotiator, like the famed wandering advisors of the Warring States period, who traveled between many royal courts to explain, interpret, and persuade into cooperation.


    The Translator’s Challenge: Always the Poetry That Disappears

    According to Lena, the most ubiquitous problem one faces in the course of translation involves communicating the meaning of the source text in language intelligible to an English reader; style, plot, and logic must all be clear. The second speaker, Canaan Morse (translator, editor, and poet, and also English editor-in-chief of Books from Taiwan) also admits that the most basic yet most essential task of translation is exposing readers in the target language to the linguistic context of the original.

    Canaan notes that writing itself is an act of translation, as the author expresses non-lingual ideas and images on the page through writing. Therefore, a secondary transformation of those ideas through translation requires the translator to focus not on re-constructing information but on received context. “A good translation is a text with a shadow; a good translator stands next to and not in front of the author.” Thus the translator is a “servant of two masters,” standing between author and reader, doing her best to understand the needs and intentions of both.


    Meanwhile, “the translator has the final word on his own draft.” Canaan explains that “when I find an ambiguity in the draft, I check it against the source text, but I always allow the translator the last word.” His words exemplify his own professional ethics: maintain loyalty to the source text. Even when employing an artist’s creativity to the crafting of the translation, one does not try to overcome or pass the source text, but allows it to say what it has to say.

    Translation’s Final Objective: Expanding the Reader’s Imagination


    “Only through translation can we transmit global cultural and artistic knowledge across borders.” Canaan believes that by daring to step beyond a linguistic comfort zone, the literary translator assumes responsibility for cultural development and transmission. Lena expresses a similar passion for her own work, noting: “Crafting books that will expand Western readers’ understanding of Asia is truly a worthwhile endeavor.”


    During the discussion section, an audience member asks whether a translator’s experiences living in the homeland of the source language will affect his translation. Both speakers strongly confirmed that this was the case, with Canaan adding: “We’re currently translating the Taiwanese collection A Ga, and if the translator doesn’t understand Taiwanese culture, or can’t understand Hokkien, there’s no way you can bring that flavor out.”

    One of the most popular questions was: among the tens of thousands published every year, how does a particular book get translated, and become an influential presence in a foreign market? To this, Lena smiled mysteriously and replied: “When we see it, we know,” leaving the audience to ponder untold possibilities.


  • Jan 14, 2018
    Openbook: A New Force in Literary Reviewing
    by Hsien Jung-Chiu || Translated by Canaan Morse

    The hottest party on the chilly first weekend in December was the Year’s Best Book Award ceremony, organized and hosted by Openbook. Publishers of all generations gathered on and off-stage to celebrate the winners; some old lions of the industry admitted that the news of having won brought them to tears, while some young editors averred it would be a moment they would never forget.


    Though Openbook is still a very young digital literary review platform (officially started in February 2017), it has in a few short months attracted a sizeable following of diehard fans, and established significant credit in Taiwanese publishing circles.


    Openbook’s Editor-in-Chief, Chou Yue-Ying, once sat at the helm of one of the most influential literary reviewers in the country: The China Times newspaper’s Open Bookliterary review section. In 2016, when the newspaper’s governing body decided to redesign the section and cut its long-standing awards program, Chou’s deep commitment to her work motivated her to resign from the newspaper and strike out on her own. When asked why she felt comfortable leaving a safe position in mainstream media in order to start a money-hungry online project from nothing, Chou responded: “Many readers would justifiably wonder, can’t our society sustain a professional book reviewing platform? Engaging once more in the work of literary reviewing, with a new philosophy and on a different platform, seemed like an absolute necessity to me.”


    Obviously, “Openbook” and Open Book look like much the same thing, and the new project does on some levels carry on the spirit of its predecessor, yet it is also much more than just new wine in old bottles. Visitors to the Openbook homepage are greeted with a wide array of options. “OB Shorts,” for instance, stitch together short, clearly written reviews of seven to ten books within a single piece, allowing for a quick-hit style of reading that viewing numbers suggest makes them popular with busy urban readers. Another popular project is called “Monthly Partnered Reading,” and features input not only from authors and publishers, but also from housewives, rock stars, YouTube streamers and more, in a bid to draw out the full diversity of the reading experience. Even author interviews are crafted along unique lines; sometimes they’re held in the gym or in the kitchen, sometimes even with masks on. By changing the boundaries and sometimes poking fun of the format of the author interview, the author’s actual creative spirit finds new and different points of entry into listeners’ imagination.


    Most of these new ideas are the brainchildren of Openbook’s Creative Director, the author, publisher and bookstore owner Chen Hsia-Min, who is both passionate about reading and a constant source of creative energy. He and his crack team of writers, makers, and videographers have been bringing readers new surprises for months now. “Our goal is to make content that’s powerful, as well as energetic and vibrant. We want that kind of atmosphere to motivate imaginative reading.”


    Beneath this new and highly colorful surface is a vision that is closely attuned to trends in contemporary reading. Chou Yue-Ying states: “In fact, the core message we wish to transmit is that these books and author’s we’re putting out there are worth attending to in contemporary Taiwan.” Chen Hsia-Min emphasizes that “We’re not only looking to give off a youthful vigor; we also want to be closely connected to the times.”


    Openbook stands as an excellent example not only of how traditional print publishers have re-invented themselves and their work online as their industry gradually dies; it also shows how an online cultural media outlet can break its way out of a flood of disjoined information, grab the attention of readers, and bring positive energy into their world. Two weeks before the Best Book Awards were announced, they posted this status on Facebook: “We sincerely believe that the choices for this year’s Best Book Awards, taken from a booklist that came together slowly over many long months, will embody the love our world has for reading.”


    Truly, the people behind this new, promising project have themselves a tender and unspeakably deep love for reading, too.

  • Jan 14, 2018
    Shortcuts to the World
    Clare Chi

    I spent the first half of November 10th, the second day of the Frankfurt Book Fair, amid an energetic flurry of meetings, and hustled my way from the day’s work into the evening event: a meet-up for attendees of the 2017 Zev Birger Fellowship, held five months before. A ten-minute trek got me to Joe Pena’s, which was already full of faces now familiar to my eye – fellow editors from England, Turkey, Brazil, Italy, Holland, and Austria, whose individual arrivals each elicited a cheer from those already there. I looked at the packed bar, and remarked to a friend, a rights manager from Hanser: “I feel like I’m back in Jerusalem, but now everyone’s dressed nicer.” She laughed and nodded in agreement. One absentminded joke took me back to scenes of that summer.


    At 4:00 a.m. on June 9th, my plane touched down in Tel Aviv. I made my way through early morning darkness to the cab stand, and set off for Jerusalem. Arriving at the hotel an hour later, I found two other early birds: a rights manager from Suhrkamp and an editor from Ullstein. Early check-in was not an option, it turned out; and while the manager explained at length that we were perfectly welcome to wait in the lobby and use the wifi, we decided that a long walk in search of food might suit us better. So we set off towards the old city, and my Jerusalem experience officially began in those quiet morning hours.


    That evening’s welcome party featured introductions by all thirty-seven participating editors, rights managers, agents, and scouts, who came from over twenty countries. At one point, an editor from the Brazilian house Intrinseca mentioned offhandedly that his house published 50 Shades of Grey. The announcement set off a chain reaction, and we began to connect with and discover each other on the basis of our relationship to a single book.


    In those initial days, we toured the fortress of Masada, braving the intense summer heat as we learned how a Judaic community resisted the Romans down to the last man, woman, and child; we visited the Holocaust Museum, and were brought back to one of the bloodiest chapters in human history; were taken around Kinneret, Israel’s largest publisher and media giant Yediot on a tour of their historical development that brought us back in time to see the Israeli publishing world through the eyes of a local. In Mahane Yehuda Market, we stuffed ourselves on local food, gazed at the multicolored spices, and came away with gifts of all kinds. We sat in the Thai restaurant by the event locale, and discussed Hygge, Lagom, Sisu, and the recent fervor for the Scandinavian spirit, while an editor Garzanti (Italy) tried to find words in Italian that best represented the soul of Italian culture. By the seaside in Tel Aviv, we splashed in the water and talked about the difficulties of learning foreign languages. Every day of that short week, we found ourselves more and more excited to spend time with each other.


    While long rides and long waits are an inevitable part of touring with large groups, those mundane moments were actually opportunities for rich communication. The group dynamic stimulated everyone’s curiosity, and questions for our international colleagues were endless; everyone wanted to know about the others’ takes on best-selling literature, book fairs, audio books, e-books, fixed-price laws, reading habits, the troubles of being an agent, and even the weird habits of their bosses. My deepest impression came from a conversation I had with a fellow participant from the Indian publisher Kerala (who had also attended the 2005 Frankfurt Fellowship) at the awards ceremony for the Jerusalem Prize. I asked him what his most valuable takeaway from the fellowship experience had been, to which he instantly responded, “acquiring rights,” and described in moving detail the troubles and excitements inherent in the process.


    The magic of the publishing industry – and the greatest quality of its members – lies in the ability of a single book to bring thirty-seven strangers into animated conversation. The total absence of competitive relations meant we were free to share publishing plans and recommend books we thought suited the other’s market. A Turkish editor told me that Pretty Little Mistakes had done so well in Turkey that the author had written a second sequel exclusively for the Turkish market. She, the editor, was desperate to find an equivalent title for children, but had had no luck. I enthusiastically recommended to her the Icelandic title Your Very Own Nordic Mythology, published by Forlagid, as a perfect match for her, and gave her the publisher’s contact information. Book fairs brought us together, and books connected us to each other, forming bonds that run further and deeper than we know, and allowing us to spend a week like college students in a foreign land. This ineffable emotion is, to me, the deepest source of value there is.


    It seems the bond won’t be effaced by the passing of time, I thought, as we all took a group picture by the bar at Joe Pena’s. I walked up to the Turkish editor and asked her if she’d looked into the Icelandic title; when she told me that the contract was already being negotiated, I found that news of her success made me happier than selling one of my own books.


    The end of our party marked the halfway point of the Frankfurt Book Fair; the next time I saw them was Friday, as book fair attendees went out to celebrate the closing of the event. A colleague and I decided to stop into the Frankfurter Hof for a drink, and we had no sooner got in the door than another Jerusalem fellow, the editor-in-chief of the Serbian publisher Agora, met me at the door with a smile. We congratulated each other on having successfully come through another book fair, and talked about which fellowships we might be applying to next. Every ending, I thought to myself, is itself another beautiful beginning.


    They say that to learn another language is to see another world. After the Jerusalem Fellowship, I felt that to meet another person is to step directly into another nation’s publishing industry, and to establish a new channel of communication.

  • Jan 14, 2018
    From a Ulyssean Nomad to a Tangut Monad
    by Pingta Ku (Translator of TANGUT INN)

    ‘Out of thin air: a big bang, followed by falling stars. A universal beginning, a miniature echo of the birth of time . . . the jumbo jet Bostan, Flight AI-420, blew apart without any warning, high above the great, rotting, beautiful, snow-white, illuminating city.’ The opening scenario of The Satanic Verses occupied my mind when I was witnessing my fellow passengers floating in the cabin on a free-falling Emirates flight above the Himalayas. Thank God, twelve hours later I, still in one piece without new-grown wings or hoofs, arrived in Gibreel Farishta’s ‘Proper London’, just in time for the English PEN Presents award ceremony to be held later that night, where I would be pitching my translation of Luo Yijun’s Tangut Inn.


    Such an unexpected sequence of events all started with a Facebook message that I sent to Mr Luo on an impulse four years before: ‘If no one’s doing it, I would love to translate your marvellous story about the Tangut Kingdom.’ I didn’t expect to receive a reply, but seven hours later my mobile vibrated.


    But why would I want to translate Tangut Inn in the first place? A convenient answer is that I needed some distraction from my doctoral project on James Joyce’s Ulysses. However, the more I think about this haunting question, the more I realise it is the uncanny resemblance between these two novels that has propelled me to plunge into such an impossible task. Just like Joyce’s Dublin upon a Homeric plane, Luo’s contemporary Taipei is a labyrinthine city overlapping with the spectral ruins of a medieval nomadic kingdom. Indeed, the Taipei-Dublin analogy is nothing new to the Taiwanese literary scene: Pai Hsien-yung’s Taipei People is an explicit nod to Joyce’s Dubliners, while Wang Wenxing is a self-appointed protégé of Joyce and an uncompromising practitioner of his modernist experimentalism.


    Another latent thread beneath both novels is their French connection. On the one hand, Ulysses was published by Shakespeare and Company, a Bohemian Rive-Gauche bookshop, during Joyce’s sojourn in Paris, while its French translation by Auguste Morel also benefits greatly from Joyce’s direct input. On the other hand, Luo’s long-time friendship with Yang Kailin, a Taiwanese Deleuzian, had a profound influence on Tangut Inn, as a miscellany of French philosophical concepts––either Deleuzian, Lacanian, or Bergsonian––shine through whenever I read it.


    Such comparisons may seem far-fetched in the eyes of sober-minded readers, but a paranoid PhD student working on Joyce could read ant trajectories into mathematical algorithms. And here is one final footnote to my ill-informed decision: I was never a fan of austere academic prose, and the translation project would grant me a perfect pretext to play with all the grotesquely beautiful phrases I’d stollen from Joyce’s novels. It may sound self-indulgent, but when I started translating Tangut Inn, I did think of Auguste Morel.


    Perhaps a Joycean’s brain is too scrambled to tell whether a book is funny or dull, but it still surprises me that so many Taiwanese readers dismiss Tangut Inn as an unreadable novel. One of the default responses I get from friends is ‘How on earth could you manage to translate it into English? I can’t even bear to read it in Chinese!’ True, Tangut Inn has a massive physical presence of two heavy volumes, but for me it has always been a pleasurable read: each chapter––or monadic ‘room’––of Tangut Inn stands on its own as a self-contained story and could be ingested at one sitting, yet these stories are so intricately arranged that they compose a dazzling constellation. For those who loathe philosophical mumbo jumbo and prefer celebrity scandals or penny dreadfuls, Tangut Inn has got even more to offer: it exposes the hidden history of ‘two Chinas’, with an excess of sex and gore à la Quentin Tarantino. In a nutshell, it’s a crazy cocktail that mixes The Bloody Chamber and The Satanic Verses, with bits and pieces of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastic dark world.

    ‘Okey-dokey, you’ve almost convinced me. Tangut Inn sounds fairly inviting, if not lethally hilarious.’ Some readers may grunt, ‘But how did you manage to translate all its puns, jokes, allusions and portmanteaus into English?’ What I’m about to say may appear counter-intuitive, but the answer is that in most cases I didn’t even bother to translate them. I simply looked for them. It’s no secret that Luo is an avid consumer of Anglophone (post-)modernism and popular culture, and, during the translation process, I often ran across fragments channeling Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, or even some melodramatic dialogues from CSI. Say, when I bumped into a marionette opening her eyes on full moon nights and stabbing her master puppeteer in the heart, I would flip through the pages of ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’ for easy solutions. Nevertheless, there were still times when I fought to forge something out of nothing. An illuminating example is that I resorted to faux-Elizabethan English when translating entries from Erdeniin Tobchi or other historical documents, and ended up with sentences like ‘Within the ſeige are Qo’ai-maral and Börte-chino, doe-not kille the paire.’


    Now, one final question that remained unanswered is: ‘It seems rather idiosyncratic to translate Xixia Luguan into Tangut Inn, doesn’t it?’ Therefore, I would take the liberty of defending my rationale. To begin with, ‘Xixia’ is a nomination that betrays Sinocentric overtones, not only because Tangut people never referred to their kingdom by this name (as Xi denotes ‘on the western periphery’) but also because the Hànyǔ Pīnyīn system fails to represent how Tangut names were pronounced in the Middle Ages. Also, Tangut resonates better––at least to my ears––with Tabgaç (the king) as well as Tunick (the protagonist), thus serving as a vertex of a holy trini-T (or, better yet, of a perfect diamond, if we think of Luo’s Tangut Kingdom as a metonymy for Taiwan). As for ‘inn’, it denotes an old-fashioned pub providing accommodation and sets the perfect scene for all those exiled boozers who never feel at home in Taiwan, whereas it also hints at Holiday Inn, an American brand of hotel chain in an era of neoliberal globalisation. If we sum up all these connotations, the combination of ‘Tangut’ and ‘Inn’ becomes a monad into which heterogeneous planes of spacetime and personages from disparate backgrounds can be folded.


    What I do as a translator is unfold the monadic universe, as Jacques Derrida puts it, ‘in a movement of love’ towards a larger audience beyond my dear dirty island.

  • Oct 26, 2017
    Rewards of the Frankfurt Fellowship Program
    by Kim Pai

    My whole life, I’ve always been someone who knew how to express my feelings, and who enjoyed sharing the details of my life with others. Yet the experiences I gained during the Frankfurt Fellowship consistently refused to be put into words. When asked, I could only describe them piecemeal, while my heart felt like an overfilled balloon, swollen to near the bursting point yet with no outlet available. Of course, I understood why: there were too many memories to recall, too many things to say, too many emotions to express all at once. So many fascinating stories were fighting to be told at once, they overwhelmed my ability to tell them. 


    Let me begin, then, with a story about self-expression. On the second day of the fellowship, each attending member was asked to give a short introductory report on the state of the publishing world in their own country, which they would follow by answering questions from listeners. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal: I talk about Taiwan’s geography and culture, then describe the biggest challenges we face in this ever-declining book market. Piece of cake, right? Ah, but don’t forget: the report had to be delivered in English! For a Chinese speaker like myself, who gets nervous just reading English aloud, this was serious challenge. As the penultimate speaker, I felt my stomach twist in a rising anxiety as I watched the preceding speakers’ easy demeanor, but when my time came, there was nothing to do but head boldly onto the stage, written draft in hand, and pretend like the audience members were stones. Luckily, the most nervous moments passed quickly, and my fifteen minutes almost felt inadequate in the end; the crowd looked interested in my report, and even asked specific questions about our bookselling platform. Looking back, I’m glad to see that I overcame the language obstacle, and I think my stage presence improved significantly. 


    Another important takeaway from the project was a fascinating conversation I had with the managing directors of Hugendubel. I remember, it was an early morning event, and leadoff reports on the bookstore’s history and market activity had the audience sipping on coffee to stay awake. Soon, however, the presenters passed around something that quickly caught our attention: a few new models of the new Tolino, an e-reader similar to a Kindle. The Tolino, which has already moved into its third generation, is spreading in popularity throughout Europe. What surprised me is that it employs a bookstore-oriented sales model; every member store has employees specializing in e-reader customer service who stand ready to help customers with any Tolino-related question. Now that Germany has officially standardized all book prices, customers no longer need to run around comparison shopping; they can patronize the bookstore of their choice, and enjoy superior e-reader service in the meantime. I was impressed by the extent to which this business model has upended traditional habits of consumption; and as someone who is always careful about the businesses I support, I hope Taiwan can establish a similar service as soon as possible. 


    The greatest benefit of the trip, however, was none other than the experience of meeting my fifteen colleagues. These wonderful people brought me closer to the rest of the world; meeting them transformed news reports from far-off countries from digital information into real stories affecting real people. Though we came from different places, we shared the same intense enthusiasm for publishing, and displayed the same flexibility and resilience our trade requires. During the trip we took care of each other and listened to each other’s stories, and by the end, we were inseparable. Even now, back in our home countries, we continue to stay in touch and share our experiences with each other. It is a connection I hope will endure for the rest of our lives. 


    Even at this fairly young age, I can confidently aver that this year’s fellowship will remain for me an unforgettable event. In two short weeks, fifteen editors, distributors and rights agents from around the world visited three German cities (Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt); visited ten publishing houses (including the headquarters of Random House); spoke to publishers and agents, and ran all over the Frankfurt Book Fair, listening to presentations and attending dinners. The fullness of the experience truly surpassed my wildest dreams.

  • Jul 17, 2017
    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam (II)
    by Itzel Hsu

    Vietnam: Remaking Taiwan’s Reputation


    Vietnam’s situation is similar to Thailand’s to a certain extent. Vietnamese readers show significant interest in Sinophone culture, and their country’s complex history with China has motivated the development of a sizable group of Chinese speakers. Books in translation also hold a prominent share of the Vietnamese market, within which books from the Chinese market have been gradually catching up to Anglo-European translations in terms of popularity. Unfortunately, Taiwanese books can claim even less visibility here than in Thailand.


    Also at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, I had the chance to meet with editors from Nha Nam, a major Vietnamese publishing house. They expressed the wish to know more about Taiwanese books, in the hopes that Taiwanese titles might add an innovative edge to the Chinese-language titles they offer; most Vietnamese readers know of no Taiwanese authors beyond Giddens Ko.


    While Nha Nam expressed positive interest in Taiwanese literature, for most Vietnamese readers, Taiwan is a place both familiar and strange. It is frequently a source for negative news – Vietnamese girls who faced abuse after marrying Taiwanese men, Vietnamese laborers being cheated in Taiwan, arrogant Taiwanese factory owners, or Taiwanese companies in Vietnam causing water pollution so bad it resulted in major protests. Sometimes I wonder how much interest there could still be in Taiwan by now. 


    Gidden Ko’s popularity in Vietnam was significantly buoyed by the adaptation of his story into the movie You’re the Apple of My Eye. His tales of adolescent love and lost were easily accessible to general readers, with Gidden’s unique authorial voice adding an extra aspect of freshness. I can say with confidence that Gidden’s work was able to catch Vietnamese readers’ attention because his popularity in the Chinese-language market motivated production of the movie, and because he told tales that resonate with readers’ commonplace experiences. His Taiwanese identity was no more than a line on his résumé.


    Sometimes, well-intentioned friends at Thai or Vietnamese publishing houses will make promotion suggestions based on their own understanding of Taiwanese books; they’d love to know about new Taiwanese titles on business management, the business memoirs of influential Taiwanese entrepreneurs, or books on new trends in the Asian economy. Of course, it would be ideal if those entrepreneurs were heads of famous international businesses, and their memoirs could be useful to young people, and if books on economic trends focused on development, trade deals, or economic integration. In short, these editors’ suggestions are founded on the belief that Taiwanese people really know how to make money. 


    While we can’t claim that their understanding of Taiwan is inaccurate, it is true that structural problems in Taiwanese society have pushed the business management genre down a path different from what they might expect. In Taiwan, domestic bestsellers in business management tend to focus on stocks and investment strategy, while the renown of most successful businessmen is usually limited to the island. Most titles don’t say much about practically successful business methods, while books on management and economic trends tend to be translations from English or Japanese. 

    Familiar Strangers


    The most profound impression left on me by the abovementioned meetings was that for neighbor nations who interact on a regular basis, we know comparatively little about each other. From this we may suggest that the obstacles to promoting Taiwanese books in these markets are not technical – preparing suitable translations, and the like – but related to national brand management and the depth of our communication. How do we make Taiwan more visible and more relatable to these readers? How do we bring forth those unique aspects that differentiate Taiwanese work from Chinese work? How do we get to know each other better, so that we may find spiritual sustenance in each other’s culture? 


    In this effort, we literary agents must rely on outside support. I have to mention the Taiwanese government’s “New Southbound Policy,” which has gathered energy from the entire government, and provided us with significant assistance. As our Thai and Vietnamese neighbors become aware of our good intentions in the political sphere, and decide on Taiwan as a vacation destination, cultural communication will inevitably improve, motivating more and greater chances for rights sales. 


    And yet, governmental support is not enough. Only recently, I had the chance to connect with the Vietnamese and Thai translators of the well-known Taiwanese author Wen-Yung Hou. The Thai translator, Mr. Anurak Kitpaiboonthawee, is a household name in the field of Chinese translation, while the Vietnamese translator is the famous Vietnamese author Trang Ha, who studied abroad in Taiwan. Not only were they both instrumental in helping their publishers acquire translation licenses, they proactively offered suggestions for book events to help readers learn about Taiwan. Their enthusiasm moved me deeply, and drove me to think more about what I myself could do beyond merely selling rights. I sincerely hope I can live up to the standards they have set. 


    Read More:

    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam  (I)

  • Jul 17, 2017
    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam (I)
    by Itzel Hsu

    As consistent readers of this column probably know, even Chinese-language books that come with a complete English translation have a much easier time finding audiences in Asian countries than in Europe or America. The reasons are exactly what you’d expect: better cultural and geographic proximity make the exchange of ideas quicker and smoother, while greater populations of Chinese learners create greater demand. Yet in the process of promotion, we often find that bottlenecks can emerge even in markets where prospects seem strong. Here, I would like to examine two particularly interesting case studies: Thailand and Vietnam. 


    Thailand: Competing with Publishers in China and Around the Globe


    In 2015, after only six short months working as a literary agent, I flew to Germany to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair. There I turned several email relationships into personal relationships, including with rights managers from Amarin, one of Thailand’s most influential publishers. I knew that as a comprehensive publisher, they put out all kinds of books, yet I was very surprised to hear them say that they were expanding their list of Chinese books in translation. 


    Thai interest in China has a long history, motivated in recent years by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s enthusiastic promotion of Chinese language learning. Their bestseller lists frequently feature Chinese kung fu epics, romances, and novels adapted for television; even Taiwanese light novels have found enthusiastic young readers, and established its own place beside domestic and Japanese counterparts. The fact that a major publisher like Amarin decided to move into an already competitive market has two major implications; first, that Chinese books in translation can be profitable, and second, that their market still has room to grow. 


    Thailand is an ideal market for the promotion of Chinese-language books. It boasts a large number of readers familiar with Chinese literature, as well as editors and translators who read Chinese, and can appraise Chinese manuscripts directly. Even a rights manager who doesn’t speak Thai need only to find the right book and prepare introductory materials in Chinese and English to make a play to sell Thai rights. 


    Given such excellent conditions, could Amarin become a major buyer of Taiwanese copyrights? The answer is, probably not. With the exception of a few publishing houses that consistently published Taiwanese literature, most houses that work with Chinese-language books have their attention firmly trained on China, where single print runs can stretch into six or seven figures, viewings on screen adaptations of books regularly move into eight figures, while books about successful, high-value business figures can also amass significant returns. Even if such blockbuster successes in the Chinese market can’t be copied to the same degree in Thailand, they create such significant public dialogue that works from Taiwan appear to pale in comparison. 


    There are other kinds of publishers in Thailand who prioritize good content over everything else. While they do not necessarily target Chinese-language books, their orientation makes them important potential buyers. Publishers like these exemplify in a specific and subtle way the nature of the translated literature market in Thailand – a high percentage of works translated from other countries and regions (America, Europe, and East Asia, among others), spread through many different genres. Grabbing the attention of such cosmopolitan, omnivorous readers involves competing with the best books in the world.


    Read More:

    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam  (II)

  • May 23, 2017
    On Publishing San Mao
    by Iolanda Batallé

    What were my reasons for publishing Diarios del Sáhara (Stories from the Sahara) by San Mao? Two years later, as I look back on the event, the question itself seems strange because I don’t remember the decision being a conscious one. I had acted directly, as if motivated by intuition. A strong curiosity, shared by those who understand Taiwanese literature well, arose in me: how could one of Taiwan’s most popular authors still be unpublished in Europe? Curiosity has this in common with desire: if it is not satisfied, it will grow endlessly. Thus it grew in me, as I discovered that San Mao’s work did not exist in any of the languages I spoke, neither in Spanish, English, French, nor in Italian.


    Though I could read no more than a few pages translated into English, I soon found myself captivated by the intense and tragic life of Echo Chen (the name San Mao used in the West). I too had lived far from my native country at a young age. My life had also been interwoven with love stories that did not always end well. I too felt that living and writing were one and the same. I quickly perceived all these similarities between her life and mine, and my decision to become her editor quickly solidified into an unquestionable resolve. I no longer needed mere reasons to publish her, as the decision was not something I could re-examine or re-assess. It was something I would do, full stop; whatever the cost, I would be the person to restore life to San Mao. I wanted to publish her books then for the same reason I do now – to read them. The vast majority of the pages she wrote remained a mystery to me. I want to experience this part of her life as though I had lived alongside her during her days in the Sahara.


    Over the years, I have crossed paths with the people who loved her. In Madrid, I met the family of José Quero (her husband), including his sisters-in-law and nieces, with whom Echo had cohabitated and corresponded frequently. I met César, José’s brother, and could sense in his expression a bit of the peace and sweetness that Echo saw in her beloved’s eyes. I met her friend Nancy from the Canary Islands, who was at her side when José died. I travelled to Taipei to meet her sister, Mona, and her younger brother, Henry. They were both very kind to me. I also met the director of Crown Publishing, the son of the editor who offered Echo her first chance to be published. I recall Henry speaking to me of the young, rebellious Echo, of her difficulties at school, her happiness when telling stories, of her return to her homeland, and of her last years.


    The slow and meticulous process of translating and editing this precious book into Spanish and Catalan has confirmed a thousand times what I felt the first time someone (a young woman with blue hair) spoke to me of San Mao: it was an absolute necessity. And the project that became Diarios del Sáhara has truly been a pleasant labor. Yet the most wonderful part of the story has been finding San Mao, not only in her words, or in the people who knew and loved her, but also in the eyes of a twenty-year-old young woman, a student of Spanish who read San Mao in Chinese. Her gratitude and joy moved me deeply. This young lady, a traveler just like Echo, was Echo’s new incarnation. There are hundres, thousands, hundres of thousands of San Maos roaming the world. I discovered the immense capacity of San Mao’s work to stand the tests of time, just like the works of Kerouac, Bowles, or Conrad, Dickenson or McCullers, authors one wants to discover when one begins to live.


    What was my motive for publishing San Mao? Only one, which is the sum of everything: life.