• 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.

  • Aug 28, 2017
    The Pivot South Translation and Publishing Program
    by Books from Taiwan

    The Ministry of Culture has formulated these guidelines to encourage the publication of translations of Taiwan’s literature, in the territories of South Asia, Southeast Asia and Australasia (hereinafter referred to as the Pivot South nations), as well as to fund exchange trips for publishers and the publication of original titles that deal with the cultures of Taiwan and the Pivot South nations, as well as the topic of cultural exchange between them.


    * South Asia, Southeast Asia and Australasia will be taken to mean: Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Australia and New Zealand.


    * Application Period: From September 1 to September 30.


    * Application Method: Please apply via the online application system (https://nspublication.moc.gov.tw/) after reading through the Pivot South Translation and Publishing program application guidelines (available online).


    * For general inquiries, please contact books@moc.gov.tw

  • Jul 24, 2017
    Taipei Rights Workshop, Summer 2017 Edition
    by Books from Taiwan

    During the last week of June, we welcomed a group of friends from Thailand and Vietnam along with the steaming hot summer air. In cooperation with Books from Taiwan, Taiwanese publishers grasped this rare chance to impress our guests with interesting stories and beautifully made books.



  • Jul 17, 2017
    Seoul International Book Fair 2017
    by Books from Taiwan

    The theme of SIBF 2017 is Meta-morphosis, which did take place—thanks to the effort of the new President of Korean Publishers Association, more large publishing groups and even independent bookstores participated. However Books from Taiwan had two full days of back-to-back meetings (isn’t it a good sign?) and hardly had the time to walk around the Fair… Still we managed to take some photos.