ABOUT LATEST BOOKS AUTHORS RESOURCES AWARDS FELLOWSHIP GRANT
  • Dec 15, 2016
    Recipients of the 2016 Translation Fund Grants!
    Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)

    The Ministry of Culture is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2016 Translation Grant Program! Please see the full list below or click here:

     


     

    Order Applicant Project Title Grant (in NTD)
    1 Text Publishing THE STOLEN BICYCLE English Translation 500,000
    2 ENCICLOPÈDIA CATALANA S.L.U. Sanmao's ”Dreaming the Olive Tree” Spanish translation and publication 400,000
    3 韓哲旻 Dark Tourism through the Rebels’ City - An Alternative Guide for Taipei Korean version Publishing plan 400,000
    4 Camelozampa s.n.c. Translation into Italian of "Kiss and Goodbye" 350,000
    5 mirobole editions WAR OF THE BUBBLES 340,000
    6 L'Asiathèque French translation of The Illusionist on the Skywalk 330,000
    7 Honford Star The Steelyard: The Complete Fiction of Lai He 300,000
    8 Hyundae Munhak  The River Darkens 300,000
    9 ALMA The Illusionist on the Skywalk 280,000
    10 魚住悅子 Badai’s Anjiao Japanese Translation and Publishing Project 250,000
    11 Mangmoom Culture  The Hospital into Thai 250,000
    12 Mangmoom Culture Dangerous Mind into Thai 240,000
    13 Munhakdongne  GRANNY’S FAVOURITE TOY 220,000
    14 思潮社 思潮社翻譯出版《A夢》日文版 200,000
    15 Mi:Lu Publishing Czech translation of Yang Mu´s work 150,000
    16 Fandogamia Editorial, C.B. The Worst Travel to Spain and France 90,000
  • Aug 26, 2016
    Applications for Translation Grant Program will be accepted beginning September 1
    Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)

    Application Period and Guidelines

    The Ministry of Culture will accept applications for its Translation Grant Program starting Thursday, September 1. The grant is to encourage the publication of translation of Taiwan's literature, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books and comics, and help Taiwan's publishing industry to explore non-Chinese interantional markets. Eligible foreign publishers or natural persons can apply for grants up to NT$ 500,000. The application deadline is Friday, September 30.

    More information about the Translation Grant Program is available on the Grant section of this website. The online application system to the grant application will be available from September 1.

    Please read the Translation Grant Guidelines carefully before the application. Please use this form to apply online.

     

    Instructions to the Online Application System 

    Please use only Chinese or English to fill in the application form. Please register your email and log in the online application system to start the application process.

    Once the application form is completed, please click "Preview" to double check all the information you have filled in. To submit your application, please click "Send", then you will receive an application confirmation letter. If not, please contact books@moc.gov.tw for further information. 

    If you click "Saved", your application will be saved in the system but it's not yet submitted. Please log in with your email and password to finish the online form and send your application before September 30, 2016. Once the application is sent, you can click the link in your application confirmation letter sent by the system to edit your application. Please be noted that all applications need to be sent before September 30, 2016. 

    One can only file five applications, please complete your current application and log in again to start a new one.

    The Ministry is available to answer questions and offer support throughout the application period. Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact books@moc.gov.tw.

      

  • Jun 30, 2016
    How Japanese Readers Engage with Dystopian Reality: Translating Egoyan Zheng’s Ground Zero
    by Kuramoto Tomoaki. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    To what extent can a fictional novel change reality? The question engages the concept of the novel on its most fundamental level of significance. Egoyan Zheng’s Ground Zero provides an answer to that question based on the complex relationship between “reality” and “fiction.” After the March 11th earthquakes visited Japan with the “reality” of nuclear crisis, many authors gravitated toward dystopian settings of terror and despair. By contrast, the anti-nuclear Ground Zero employs a “realism” in its description of space and human events that attempts to change “reality” through “fiction,” and to break through the established models of dystopian narrative.

     

    Maintaining support for anti-proliferation policy and working with readers to change our current “ground zero” is Zheng’s ongoing and uncharted project. The novel describes a futuristic Taiwanese society in which nuclear crisis has already changed daily life irrevocably, and yet established structures of power remain in effect. While the narrative may resemble dystopian science fiction, it narrates our past as much as our future. As a member of that greater “our,” I know that once nuclear non-proliferation laws acquire global legitimacy, international readers will be able to engage fully with this reading space.

     

    An author who can bridge the divide between “reality” and “fantasy” through metafictional narrative tactics can help readers change a society in love with nuclear power (the events and spaces of this novel mirror those of contemporary Taiwan almost exactly). This sort of narrative strategy will continue to call readers to its space and to its cause. I’m confident that the most suitable readers for this unfinished narrative project are “the sons of the atomic bomb” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

     

    I also believe that my responsibility as a translator is to introduce as well as participate in this project. The concrete process of translation revealed several differences in “reality” between Japan and Zheng’s Taiwan. Perhaps Japanese readers will be able to continually engage with the novel’s plot, and thereby engage with this project of reception and creation.

     

    In Ground Zero, Egoyan frequently notes the deeply flawed construction of the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant. The wreckage left by that plant symbolized not only the shadow of Taiwanese martial law, but also the rise of Japanese and American imperialism. After martial law ended, the Taiwan Power Company ignored widespread civilian protest marches, as well as strong opposition from the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and the Oversight and De-Proliferation Association, and proceeded with construction at Lungmen. In the end, General Electric won the rights to construct the plant, while Toshiba and Hitachi designed the reactors. Both of the Lungmen plant’s reactors were designed and built by Japanese state-owned enterprises, and constituted a rare success in the nation’s new mandate to “develop nuclear power solely for peaceful purposes.” The deeply flawed Lungmen plant was, therefore, the mutant offspring of a hegemon that dictated other nation’s nuclear policy (America) and a country that had once felt the effects of nuclear development before transforming into a nuclear provider itself (Japan).

     

    Japanese readers will not fail to sense that the exposure of government power structures following the nuclear crisis in Ground Zero invokes comparisons to Japan after the March 11th disasters; Egoyan’s satirical portrayal of the government that carries on with old nuclear policy after a disaster like nothing has happened obviously bears directly on Japan’s case. Hochen Duanfang, chairman of the previous Executive Yuan’s Nuclear Safety Committee, leads a team of commandos to the disaster site knowing full well that radioactive wastewater has made it into drinking water reservoirs. Yet he fakes a sudden discovery, ensuring his mission is a success, and he rides the subsequent wave of national fame into a candidacy for president of the ruling party. Similarly, the Japanese government claimed that its crises had been “totally unpredictable,” and protected executives in the Tokyo Power Company from legal liability, all while strongly pushing the commercial benefits of nuclear power. Perhaps the nuclear policies implemented by Japan then were even more damaging than those described in Egoyan’s novel. The fifteen “commandos” who ventured into the disaster site will also stir memories among Japanese readers of the “Fukushima Fifty,” the employees who remained at the Fukushima disaster site who supposedly volunteered to remain in the disaster area and contain radiation. As the number of victims rose to thirty thousand, most of those who were working in radioactive areas turned out to be temporary employees, not “heroes” from the Tokyo Power Company. Takahashi Tetsuya, a professor of philosophy at Tokyo University who researched how the Fukushima Fifty became so-called “great martyrs of the Japanese nation,” pointed out that Japanese nuclear policy was a predatory institution that required the sacrifice of others in order to operate. It was only after the truth could no longer be hidden that the government began trumpeting the “great martyrdom” of the Fukushima Fifty through mainstream media, in order to keep themselves and the Tokyo Power Company from assuming responsibility. On some level, Egoyan’s “commandos” present the post-crisis Japanese government in cameo, thereby effecting a bitter satire of an institution ripe with contradiction.

     

    The Japanese version of Ground Zero is forthcoming this March from Hakusuisya Press. As the translator, I hope Japanese readers find in it an entry point through which to engage with with Egoyan’s unfinished project to influence reality through fiction, and end Japan’s fateful marriage with nuclear power.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    From Square One: A New Publishing Journey
    by Grace Chang, rights Director of Books From Taiwan. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    My first international exhibition since joining the Books from Taiwan (BFT) team last January was the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April. As everyone in our industry knows, this event is a must-go for children’s book authors and illustrators worldwide. I myself had been before, serving in other roles, but to come back now after years away and in a new position seemed akin to making a fresh start. This time, I had a new identity, new responsibilities, a new perspective, and new impressions.

     

    No longer was I just another rights associate of some publishing company, arriving with only my own booklist and an eye for foreign prospects. Instead, I now served as a “government sponsored rights manager,” acting under the auspices of the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture. My business now included every original Taiwanese work, author, and publisher; my responsibility was the advocate for each and every one, and help them find  ideal international collaborators.

     

    At nine a.m. on the first morning of the Fair, I made my way to the Taiwan pavilion, arranged my copies of BFT under the smiling face of the “Little Beauty of Taiwan,” and set up my meeting table. It was the first time I didn’t need to spend the day running from booth to booth, and could therefore observe our pavilion personally, and with care.

    Taiwan Stand and BFT

    Taiwan Stand and BFT

     

    Curious to know what kinds of people would gravitate to our pavilion, I played the part of impromptu receptionist for a few hours that morning. The first visitors to flip through BFT were purchasing librarians from the Bologna municipal library; later, I met publishers and booksellers from all the world (a South African publisher greeted me with: “I want sexy books! Give me something sexy!”), along with young illustrators offering their work to editors for perusal. People came to us with a diverse array of hopes and expectations, and as employees, we were responsible for engaging seriously with each. Every so often, we would enter into a round of on-site book interviews and real negotiation. In a high-stress, easily changeable atmosphere like the Fair, such occurrences came as a welcome surprise.

    Librarians

    Librarians

     

    What can a “government sponsored rights manager” do? In my spare time at the Fair (something I never had before), I poked around the exhibition floor, looking for an answer to that question. I visited the pavilions of the Czech Republic, Holland, Russia, Turkey, Croatia, Scandinavia, Cataluña, and other countries, noting how they presented themselves to the world, lowered the barriers to rights exchange, and inspired interest. Conversations with my colleagues from around the world gradually revealed that my target partners included not only editors and rights associates all over the world, but also authors, translators, the critical community, and representatives from government and non-profit foundations. I needed to plant seeds of interest all over the world, and care for them until “points” turned into “lines,” then into “areas.” This new work represented both a challenge and a source of great interest.

    Croatia

     

    I also had a chance to visit the Illustrators Exhibition 2016, which included this year’s special exhibition, a showcase of classic illustrations celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Book Fair. I found myself revisiting my first impulses to work in the children’s book industry, and pondering Taiwan’s place among the vast landscape of seemingly borderless works of art.

    50th Anniversary

    Ju Tzu

    Ju Tzu

     

    Books from Taiwan has just begun its work. Before we started, we believed that our pictorial language would allow our work to step beyond cultural boundaries more easily; only our experiences on the exhibition floor revealed the opposite to be true. Like a child with a new jigsaw puzzle, we are beginning at square one. Only practical experience will teach us how to fit those pieces, slowly but surely, into one grand picture.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    Books, Friends, Fellows: Lessons from the Taipei Rights Workshop
    by Eric Abrahamsen, founder of Paper Republic

    Publishing has long been known as a “gentleman’s profession.” The term originally held several different implications, many of which are no longer true – that it’s a profession dominated by men, for instance, or only for the independently wealthy. But  one understanding of the term is still very much in effect, namely that publishing, more than most industries, depends on personal connections, friendships, and being part of an international “publishing culture.”

     

    Nearly a decade of working in literature and publishing in Beijing has driven this point home for me in two ways. The first was watching editors at Chinese publishing houses trying to pitch their books to foreign publishers and failing. As I watched these interactions, it became clear to me that the problem wasn’t so much the books or the editors, but with their methods of communication. Chinese editors simply didn’t know how to talk naturally with international editors, much less pitch their books in a compelling way. The second was my own interactions with those same international editors. As an American and native English speaker, I enjoyed an unfair advantage – at least we could chat, and find a natural rapport. But when it came to pitching titles I wanted to translate, I fell down just as hard as the Chinese editors. I had no trouble in conveying how much I liked a particular book, but when it came to why I liked it – and more importantly, why they should publish it – I wasn’t making myself clear.

     

    The usual term for what I experienced at the Taipei Rights Workshop is “publishing fellowship.” In November of 2015 I was invited to Taipei, along with a handful of editors, agents and translators from other countries, to spend a week getting to know both each other and the Taiwanese publishing and literary scenes. The word “fellowship” is telling. It fits very neatly with the idea of publishing as a social endeavor: these week-long events provide participants with a way to get to know each other on more than just a professional basis. There’s shop talk about books and rights and markets and sales, but there’s also late-night conversations about personal history, arguments about taste, admissions about past misjudgments, and war stories about near misses. Participants in these events are “fellows” in the sense of having experienced something unique together.

     

    By the time I attended the Taipei Rights Workshop, I had (over the years) spent enough time with editors that I had a better sense of how to introduce Chinese books in an effective way. We had hosted a UK editors’ trip to China, attended the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, and midwifed several Chinese books into English publication. Looking around the Chinese publishing industry, however, it was clear that most Chinese editors still didn’t really know how to communicate with international editors. Some privately-owned publishing companies were extremely adept at acquiring titles from other countries, but the challenge of pitching Chinese books abroad still seemed insurmountable.

     

    My week in Taipei was the longest period of time I’d spent in the company of a mixed group of international editors. I’ll admit it felt like a bit of a homecoming – though our backgrounds were completely different, they seemed like my kind of people. I simply liked talking to them. We had a lot of the same opinions about books. And I realized that that’s one of the great appeals of the publishing world – it’s a great global society of people who like nothing more than talking about books.

     

    Returning to Beijing, I thought immediately of the cynical side of all this. The business of publishing is – the love of books aside – a game of chance. As in all games of chance, most players think they have better-than-average odds of winning, which is why everyone keeps playing. When it comes to international fiction, however, the odds are even longer: one has less information, more uncertainty, and far greater risk.

     

    It is part of human nature that, when faced with such uncertainty, we seek out the opinions of other people, and of our friends in particular. And who are our friends if not our fellows, the people we’ve spent weeks bonding with in foreign countries?

     

    Here we have the reason Chinese editors are so often unable to pitch their books: no one knows who they are. Specifically, no one has a sense of them as individuals; no one knows their tastes; no one has stayed up until 2 a.m. arguing with them about the relative merits of Milan Kundera versus Haruki Murakami. When they drop by a stand at the book fair and say, “I’ve got something I think you might like,” the crucial question is: will they be heard?

     

    Imitationis the sincerest form of flattery, and in a few days the Beijing Publishing Fellowship will begin. It was directly inspired by the Taipei Rights Workshop, and it will, like all publishing endeavors, be an equal mix of market pragmatism and literary idealism. My hope is that the visiting fellows will learn a great deal about China, and go home with future projects and partners in mind. But more than that I hope that local editors will learn how to talk to the fellows. How to be social, how to share their enthusiasm, how to make what they’re trying to say heard. Everyone belongs to their own milieu. But we also need to be able to reach out – to convey our passions, to speak to others’ markets, to show we understand. That’s a lesson I learned in Taipei.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    Finding Wonderland: Selling Taiwanese Rights Abroad (II)
    by Sean Hsu. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    While Taiwanese publishers still face many difficulties in the sale of international rights, healthy economic relationships with Japan, Korea, and the southeast Asian nations (such as Thailand and Vietnam), as well as clear channels across the Taiwan Strait have kept the industry doing fairly well.

     

    Publishing information channels across the Taiwan Strait are plentiful and open. Taiwanese authors can manage their readers through the internet or direct visits, and can even sell yet-unpublished manuscripts directly to Chinese presses through their own publisher. The Chinese mainland has thereby become the easiest and most desirable sales target for book rights.

     

    In recent years, Thailand has been very active at the Taipei Book Fair. Thai agents who can read Chinese have lowered the barriers of entry for Taiwanese publishers, and business grows steadily. Popular genres include genre fiction such as martial arts novels, romances, and ghost stories, a phenomenon directly related to the preferences of Thai readers. Nonfiction categories include illustrated nonfiction, health and nutrition, self-help, business management, and Chinese history – interestingly, the desire for Chinese history is directly motivated by computer games and education. Reputation is also a deciding factor in rights purchases. Examples include successful sales by Crown Publishing House of books by San Mao, Eileen Chang, Hou Wen-yung and others to Japan and Korea.

     

    The Soji Shimada Mystery Prize, started by Crown in 2008, is also worth talking about. After over a decade of publishing mystery novels in translation, Crown came together with Soji Shimada, the widely-translated mystery novel writer to start a novel contest that would allow previously unknown winners to step directly onto an international stage, guaranteeing them sales to Japan, China, and Thailand (the third iteration of the Prize added Italy and Malaysia to that group; the prize is now in its fourth round).

     

    Taiwanese publishers can learn from the example of Chan Ho-Kei, the Hong Kong author whose literary mystery novel The Borrowed won both the second Soji Shimada Prize and First Prize at the 2015 Taipei International Book Fair, has sold translation rights in seven countries as well as film rights to the book. the author is from Hong Kong and the story itself focuses on the Hong Kong police, The Borrowed was produced entirely by Crown. Although Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement, which occurred just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, seemed to be the happy accident behind the book’s publicity, the real key lay in the Taiwanese agent’s willingness to invest 150,000 NTD to have the book professionally translated and edited. Advances and royalties together returned that investment more than thirty-three times over. The significance of that return is worthy of consideration.

     

    Another notable work, which sold for over two million NTD, is the nonfiction work Wonderland. In 2015, coloring books took the publishing world by storm. Taiwan’s DelightPress, which had been publishing art therapy books for many years, saw the trend coming, and designed a coloring book themed on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Compared to The Secret Garden, the design and illustrations in Wonderland appealed strongly to 20-30-year-old female readers, and the book not only surpassed a highly competitive field, it found immediate interest among foreign publishers, as its images possessed a universal, independent appeal. Clearly, Taiwanese publishers are capable of creating original works of art that can surprise the world.

     

    What is the next step for international rights sales in Taiwan? How should the publishing industry continue to develop? My own opinion is that domestic publishers should build closer ties with agents, in order to bring the possibility of international sales into the early stages of the creative process, and allow the agent, who has international connections and sales experience, to introduce the work strategically and effectively. Such a relationship would build a self-sustaining, positive energy, and produce ever more qualified publishing professionals.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    Finding Wonderland: Selling Taiwanese Rights Abroad
    by Sean Hsu. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    There are any number of possible angles from which we can introduce and analyze the state of domestic publishing in Taiwan today. In this article, I will rely on my own concrete experience and observations as well as the results of interviews done with industry members to describe the current scene as I understand it, as well as offer my own expectations and suggestions.

     

    Over the past twenty years, Taiwanese publishing has evolved away from an editor-centered model that privileged personal connections and individual artistry, toward a more standardized management model that aims to lower costs, increase revenue, and grasp market changes by actualizing the potential of the strategic business unit and controlling key performance indicators (KPI) throughout the production process using digital and network tools.

     

    Major publishers and publishing groups maintain clear company structures, in which the editorial and strategy departments are the primary production units, while sales, accounting, administration, and legal counsel are considered logistical support. Small publishers with editorial teams of four people or fewer often require their editors to wear several different hats, yet the majority of resources are still redirected to editorial production. No matter how large or small the publisher, editors remain the “movers and shakers,” and are responsible for everything from topic selection, market positioning, design, and marketing to community management and after-sale advertisement. They also play a key role in rights sales and purchasing.

     

    Excluding a small cohort of manga, light novels, picture books, celebrity memoirs or other works connected to mainstream media, books published in Taiwan have only one market: Taiwan. Peripheral markets like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia offer a chance to extend sales because of a shared writing system (traditional Chinese), but do not offer opportunities to sell rights for multiple languages. Therefore, over ninety percent of international rights transactions accomplished through agents or by Taiwanese publishers themselves are purchases. International sales are very rare, and most of these are not accomplished solely by the strategic action of the publisher, but through events and sponsorship offered by government organizations like the Ministry of Culture, or NGOs like the Taipei Book Fair Foundation. 

     

    As we investigate more deeply the front lines of publishing, we find that domestic publishers are extremely adept at “localized interpretation,” and know how to select valuable topics and marketable language amid the vast landscape of foreign- and Chinese-language books. When evaluating the former, they rely heavily on global sales records, criticism from the media and from readers, and prize records. The perennial dominance of literature in translation as well as the bestseller lists generated by bookselling channels both reflect this competency. Moreover, as editors of literature in translation are often separated from their Chinese-language counterparts inside publishing companies, an editor who wishes to market a domestic title internationally will still have a hard time gaining effective marketing language and strategy from editors across the aisle.

     

     “Simply carrying out the editorial duties we already have is exhausting enough. The best we can do is put together some marketing materials after the publication, find someone to translate the Chinese into English, and wait and see if foreign publishers show any interest.” I heard this response from nearly all the editors whom I interviewed. Their pessimism may simply reflect a lack of time or a shortage of resources, yet the fact that they approach international rights marketing with a Chinese-language mindset and act as if they were working for Chinese readers is itself obviously problematic.

     

    Larger publishers and publishing groups frequently have rights departments, staffed by associates more experienced in international publishing than the editors. Yet the reality is that those associates spend nine times more time and energy purchasing international rights than selling their own. They are not credited for royalties earned through international licensing (the editorial department is), and they lack the budget in translating Chinese literature and maintaining the long-term relationship with potential international buyersintroducing. While the sale of international rights continues to bring no appreciable profit to Taiwanese publishers, motivation to do so will continue to be lacking.

  • Dec 13, 2015
    The Borrowed’s Mature Character
    Reviewed by Wolf Hsu. English translation by Gigi Chang.

    Originally published 15 October 2014, http://blog.roodo.com/wolfhsu/archives/32401822.html

    Chan Ho-kei’s The Borrowed is full of surprises.

    The Borrowed is a crime novel by Hong Kong writer Chan Ho-kei. It contains six novellas that can be read individually, but reading them together gives the flavor of a full-length work. The six stories share the same protagonist, and the book starts in 2013 before gradually rewinding back to 1967. The reverse chronology not only reveals how certain characteristics of the protagonist Kwan Chun-Dok came about, it also gives us a glimpse into some of the changes that occurred in Hong Kong under the British government rule and communist China.

    When I read the first chapter, ‘The Truth Between Black and White’, I had yet to realize all that.

    Chan mentioned in his Postscript that this story was written for Mystery Writers of Taiwan’s short story competition. The competition’s theme was ‘armchair detective’. This is a classic set-up for detective fiction, where the detective does not take part in the physical investigation, but steps in when associated characters have gathered all the information but are unable to work out the truth. The detective then uses their watertight logic to connect different threads and unveil the mystery.

    A lot of writers don’t like writing to a pre-specified theme, it feels constricting. Yet, sometimes it is a great way to fire up the imagination, and this is where Chan dazzles. The story starts with Kwan Chun-Dok, a long-retired police detective, bedbound by illness. His ‘disciple’ Inspector Sonny Lok comes with information about a murder case and the people related to the case. But Kwan is grievously ill and has lost his ability to speak, he can only indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a computer display as Lok explains the situation and questions the people he has brought along.

    This set-up seems to have pushed ‘armchair detective’ to its extreme; the detective can’t move or ask any questions, he can only propel deductive reasoning forward by responding in the most basic dichotomy. But in the latter part of the story, readers find out that the whole premise has been a trap. They realize what it has all been about. If you knew about the competition parameter, you might think that the move goes against the principle of an ‘armchair detective’ story, but Chan changes course once more just before the finale. Not only does he reveal the shocking truth behind the trap, he also makes sure everything falls back into place, slap bang on theme.

    Chan shows his familiarity with classic forms in detective fiction in the skillful way he incorporates and spins them in the stories that follow. In the second story, ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’, the retired Kwan is acting as a special consultant to the force when Sonny Lok, newly promoted to Inspector, receives a video of a murder. As the police look into the video and the crime, the story draws out the rivalry among triad members and comments on the complex relationship between Hong Kong’s entertainment industry and the criminal underworld. The third story ‘The Longest Day,’ is set on Kwan’s last day before his retirement, when his team are faced with two cases: a sulfuric acid attack in a busy street and the escape of a resourceful criminal seeking treatment at a hospital. Kwan is not supposed to do any work that day, but he decides to drag Lok along, who has just been promoted to Sergeant, to ‘look into’ the chemical attack, and resolves both cases speedily before he finishes his last full working day.

    In the fourth story ‘The Scales of Themis,’ a gun battle breaks out as undercover police are about to arrest suspects. Looking into the shoot out, the story reveals unspoken tensions between police officers and within the power structure, as well as Hong Kong’s unique urban landscape. The fifth story, ‘Borrowed Place,’ may be about a kidnapping on the surface, but the detective work exposes disciplinary issues in the force and shows the daily life of the British in Hong Kong and how local Hongkongers view these ‘outsiders’. The sixth and final story, ‘Borrowed Time,’ is very intriguing: the narrative turns from the omnipresent third person to the subjective first person. It’s about an ‘I’ who does odd jobs for a living, stumbles across a bomb plot and helps a young beat cop numbered ‘4447’ to solve the case. It’s not just a nerve-wrecking search for a ticking clock, it also shows a side of Hong Kong we may have never heard about.

    Most of these stories have the underlying mystery-solving structure of classic detective fiction, but they are not confined by the format of ‘Incident occurs  investigation ensues  detective joins in  case is resolved.’ The main event that requires the protagonists’ deductive reasoning sometimes only occurs halfway through the plot. The time and place of each story also bear some significance to Hong Kong’s history. The first two are set after Hong Kong’s handover, sketching the changes in the triads, showbiz and the police force brought about by the new political reality. The third story occurs in 1997 before Hong Kong was handed back to China; Kwan’s retirement mirrors the era’s impending transformation and it paints public duty officers’ reactions to the sovereignty change. The fourth story has all the features of a police procedural: though the police are united by their uniform, they are individuals trying to get what they want and coping with their own emotions. The fifth story reflects the cultural and class conflicts between the British and Hongkongers. And the last story is against the backdrop of the 1967 Leftist Riots, when communist sympathizers rebelled against the British government, a period of uncertainty that embroiled many and left a legacy.

    In other words, though the main body of Chan’s story has a tight hold of the thinking behind the classic whodunnit, its plots and settings ambitiously reveal the scope of the American hardboiled or Japanese ‘social school.’ The focus isn’t only on the cases; they reflect the zeitgeist as well as the complexity of human nature, while sketching out the sights of the city. This is a Hong Kong story written by a Hong Kong writer – the stories are rooted in the city’s environment, but the content entices readers who don’t live in Hong Kong to keep turning the pages.

    At the same time, reading the six novellas together amounts to another point of interest.

    Readers don’t find out the real identity of ‘I’ until the very end. This set-up not only links the six stories into a coherent novel, it also makes the protagonist Kwan Chun-Dok much more rounded. In classic detective fiction, the detective usually experiences relatively little personality change, he or she thinks calmly and finds a way through the maze of events and relationships. But Chan lets his reader into the key turning point that shapes Kwan’s personality, making this detective more than just a logical, unerring ‘thinking machine.’ He is a person that changes and grows with the events that go on around him. He is someone who carries through his resolutions.

    When I read this book, Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’ was taking off. The fictional Kwan’s meditation on police identity versus reality triggered much personal reflection.

    Looking at it purely as a reader, The Borrowed is a brilliant detective novel. But commenting on it more selfishly, this is a book that I think all writers in Chinese, myself included, should pay attention to and think carefully about. How to get close to readers, how to portray the characteristics of the societies that we know so well, how to use genre structure to tell a story but not become restricted by it, these are important issues we should think about.

  • Dec 13, 2015
    Genre Fiction in Translation? A Dialogue
    by Anna Holmwood, translator and editor-in-chief of Books From Taiwan Issue 1-3

    ‘Translated literature? All that weird French existentialism and German meditations on man and nature. Nah, bit too ‘literary’ for me, that stuff. A bit poncey.’

            Please be introduced to our supposed friend, English Reader. Take a bow, English Reader.

            ‘Hello, yep, that’s me. English Reader. No taste. Not for that foreign stuff anyhow.’

            You mention the word ‘literary,’ dear English Reader. What do you mean?

            ‘Well, you know, it’s just another word for ‘difficult,’ isn’t it?’

            You don’t think it’s a bit like calling an apple appley? Or rain wet?

            ‘Erm?’

            What I mean is, what’s literary literature? Sounds like an oxymoron.

            ‘Okay, fancy pants. I just mean, I don’t know, it’s a bit different. This translated literature. Like, I don’t know if it’s going to be good, because I can’t read the original. How do I know the translator hasn’t taken everything that’s good about the original and gone and made it, well you know, rubbish. I can’t judge it. It makes reading it so exhausting.’

            So if you don’t like to read ‘literary’ literature, this difficult stuff, what is it you like? ‘Genre’ literature?

            ‘’Genre’ literature? You mean, popular stuff? Yeah, I like to read things with a good story, what’s your point?’

            If you’re going to decide some things are ‘literary,’ you’re comparing it to something, something not ‘literary.’ I’m just wondering what that is for you.

            ‘I like to read crime fiction, yeah, I guess you’re telling me that’s ‘genre’ fiction. But I also like things that have won awards too. Amazon doesn’t ask me to choose from a selection called ‘genre’ fiction. Sounds like you’re being a bit snobby to me.’

            I’m just trying to understand the words we use for different types of books. It seems to be something that can irritate people.

            ‘If you disparage people for their reading tastes, then yes, it can be irritating.’

            But you just told me you don’t like translated fiction? Aren’t you the one being the snob? Presumably you don’t include Stieg Larsson in your ‘translated fiction is all difficult to understand’ grand sweeping statement?

            ‘No, but that’s probably because you’re the one putting words in my mouth. And anyway, talk about going for the obvious; Scandi crime. I’m not that into it, actually. It might have escaped your notice, but you just created me as your archetypal English Reader a few moments ago, the bogey man to your Literary Translator persona.’

            I hadn’t actually introduced myself.

            ‘Then I think it’s time you did. Everyone, meet Literary Translator.’

            Thank you. Yes, I happen to translate literature from Chinese and Swedish into English. That’s my job, and I’m trying to get to grips with what everyone says the English Reader wants. It’s part of my job. That’s why I’m talking to you.

            ‘Except, you’re not really. You’re making me say what you want to hear. That I don’t like translated fiction.’

            Because you said so, just up there.

            ‘No, you made me say that. I believe you got to me to call it ‘foreign stuff.’ But I wonder if you’re really open to talking to me about translated literature, or you just want to make assumptions about what I really think.’

            Okay, shall we start again? This conversation has turned a little hostile.  

            ‘Damn right it has. Because apparently I have to stand in for all readers in English, like some Everyman that has to defend the fact that apparently we translate so little. Why is this my responsibility all of a sudden? At least I actually buy books, why am I the bad guy now?’

            I guess that is a bit unfair, you’re right. Let me take a quick peek at your shelves. You seem to consume books in a fairly representative way though, you know, of the ‘mainstream.’ A good spattering of the best seller lists. I am Malala, the new Harper Lee (did you like it?), oh, even some adult colouring books!

            ‘Yes, but you’re also ignoring my sci-fi and fantasy collection, which includes… Let me see… Stanislaw Lem, Gert Jonke and wait, you’ll like this one, a bit out of the box, Wu Ming-Yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes. Cli-fi, they call it.’

            You’ve read Wu Ming-Yi’s book! Wow. Did you like it?

            ‘Yes, it was really lyrical, and quite beautifully detailed. I didn’t really know what to expect, so it was a bit more challenging than a lot of the other stuff I read. I mean, I don’t really know much about Taiwan. But I saw Margaret Atwood tweet about it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did.’

            That’s brilliant! So, it wasn’t too ‘literary’?

            ‘Like I said, I had to put a bit of effort into it. Usually I like to read on my way to work, I have a forty-five-minute ride on the tube and so it helps me pass the time. But I found it a bit hard to concentrate on this one in the morning rush hour, with everyone’s sweaty armpits in my face. So I ended up finishing it on holiday, when I had a bit more time. This is the thing, you can’t go on at people about how good it is to read more fiction in translation and then get upset with them when they quite legitimately tell you that reading it takes more effort. I haven’t been to every country in the world, so sometimes the local elements in the story are a bit more difficult to grasp. The motivations behind the ways the characters behave, I guess.’

            Yes, I suppose you’re right. Sometimes the way the story is told also takes a bit of getting used to. Not every culture takes the same approach to storytelling. It would be boring if they did.

            ‘Exactly! Sometimes translated books can feel a bit odd and you can’t put your finger on why. I don’t know if it’s because there are different cultural conventions, or, if the translator hasn’t done a good job. If I could read the original and know that, I wouldn’t need it translated!’

            But you have quite a collection of foreign sci-fi by the sounds of it?

            ‘I think it’s interesting to see how different writers from different countries imagine the future, or alternate realities. It says a lot about their view of the world. But at times, I’m not sure I’m totally getting what it is they’re trying to say. It could just be lost in translation.’

            Ah! I hate that phrase. Can you not say that to a literary translator?

            ‘But you can’t stop me from wondering if that’s what’s going on! How do I know if every translator is really skilled enough to bring someone else’s words into English? Not being able to judge because I can’t read the original, well, it leaves me a bit nervous. And yet that seems to offend you translators.’

            It does take a lot of trust…

            ‘Yes, I’ve got to trust you haven’t messed up a really good book. When I’m reading something written in English, I can just say, ‘That was brilliant!’ or ‘That was rubbish!’ all based on my own taste. But I don’t know if something is really rubbish if it’s been translated. Maybe you were the one that was rubbish.’

            The conversation has turned a bit hostile again. I’d just like to point out, translators worry about this more than any reader does, trust me. It’s a heavy weight. And sometimes we can sense that a certain stylistic element will be totally unfamiliar, if not downright weird, to an English reader. I mean you, English Reader. I can tell that you might think it ‘doesn’t work in English,’ but what I am I supposed to do? Should I only suggest translating things that tally completely with your expectations, should we all decide that if it’s challenging, it's not worth it?

            ‘Of course not. Didn’t we start this whole conversation with you making out that I only wanted an easy read, that I was just into ‘genre’ fiction? I think you should admit, that I’m a bit more open minded than you first allowed me to be.’

            That’s true. We are clearly both suspicious of this word ‘genre’ fiction anyway. But what I think it comes down to is, people never pick up a book without having certain expectations about it before they start. If I tell you, ‘This is a sci-fi novel,’ but don’t tell you it’s from Taiwan, you’re going to read it expecting it to have certain features of a sci-fi novel that may or may not be present. This will shape your response.

            ‘It will, but you can tell me it’s both. A sci-fi novel and originally written in Chinese. Maybe that way, I’ll know to be a bit more flexible, or be willing to put in a bit more effort.’

            But will you pick it up if you know it’s translated?

            ‘I already did, didn’t I? My point is, I can’t be expected to read every book published in English, let alone published in every language on the planet and then translated into English. When I go into a bookshop, or download something onto my Kindle, I have to make choices. Sometimes I want something easy, something where I know what I’m getting. And sometimes I want something new. But how I make those choices is a bit random, depends on how I’m feeling. You don’t get angry with me for not picking up the debut of some unknown British author writing in English, do you? So, you have to allow me to make certain personal preferences when it comes to authors I’ve never heard of from the other side of the world too.’

            Hence why you’re into foreign sci-fi, but don’t have a lot of Mexican contemporary fiction on your shelves?

            ‘Precisely. I like science fiction, I read a lot in that genre, so it’s easier for me to branch out a bit into foreign sci-fi too. But just because I didn’t buy the latest Knausgård doesn’t mean I’m not going to buy a book from Taiwan. Despite your disparaging remarks about ‘genre’ fiction, knowing something written in Chinese is considered to belong to a certain genre, say sci-fi, helps me understand it. I’m more likely to pick it up than if you just tell me, ‘Hey, English Reader, this book was written by a Taiwanese author, you should check it out!’ You’ve got to help me out a bit. Throw me a bone.’

            So what you’re saying is, you’re not necessarily going to be interested because it’s been translated…

            ‘No, not me personally, although maybe that appeals to other readers. And that’s probably what makes it difficult if you just tell me it’s translated and its ‘literary fiction,’ that could mean anything.’

            I think that was my point to begin with, it’s an oxymoron. Appley apples, remember?

            ‘Yeah, oxymoronic. So recommend me some more Taiwanese sci-fi already. Or a good Taiwanese spy thriller. Or a Taiwanese colouring book, I need to relax.’

            Okay, I’m working on it.