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  • Dec 12, 2014
    New Books in German: Not Just About New Books in German
    by Jen Calleja, Acting Editor (2013-2014), New Books in German

    Literature in translation is the most wonderful kind of cross-cultural communication: the sharing of meaningful stories between cultures. Though interest in translated literature is undoubtedly having a renaissance with a selection of publishers shouting proud about how much they want to publish more translated literature, literary journals having dedicated translation issues and the wider media exploring the process of literary translation in their articles and interviews, the amount of foreign-language literature being translated into English is still so much less than in the other direction.


    The market for translated literature is still relatively niche and everyone within the translation community internationally is trying to raise its profile and whet their readers' appetite for it. During my roller-coaster sixteen months as acting editor and acting editorial consultant for the journal New Books in German I experienced how interconnected the world of translation is—and must be. To promote any literature in translation, one needs to promote all literature in translation and know the literary landscape as a whole. It would of course be wonderful to think that all publishers and readers are keeping a keen eye out for books in translation and that the strength of a book alone should be enough to carry it into another language, country and market, but unfortunately this isn't the case.


    Founded in 1996, New Books in German is a project helping to get more German-language fiction, non-fiction and children's books into the international market. Both a biannual print magazine and a website, NBG publishes reviews for a selection of curated titles; interviews with publishers, writers and translators; features on current trends in German literature; and information on a selection of the latest translations in English of German books. Most of the books selected for review in the magazine are guaranteed translation funding by the financial partners of the magazine should an English-language publisher buy the rights, which is a wonderful additional incentive for publishers wishing to branch out into German literature but are put off by the irksome additional cost of hiring a translator.


    The array of print and online-only publications with the same mission as NBG (including 12 Swiss Books, Swedish Book Review, Books from Finland, New Spanish Books, Fiction France, 10 Books from Holland, to name a few) likewise not only promote individual titles, but also interview literary translators, follow trends in the publishing world and bring news on the current popularity of certain genres of translated literature in general. These publications also learn and take inspiration from one another and in some instances have the same models and editorial processes as each other. The role of these publications, including NBG, is to act as mediator between the publishing houses at home and publishers abroad by highlighting a selection of their language's best (and also typically contemporary) literature. You can't pitch books blindly into a foreign market, no matter how great the book is. NBG, for example, seeks books that are first and foremost outstanding, but that would also not be too problematic to translate and that would find an English-language readership (this, I should add, is why our partnership with the German Book Office New York is so important; even the various English-language markets differ, so it's good to have a broad perspective on which books could work in English translation). The books need to have a fighting chance, so knowing the market you're trying to enter is imperative.


    NBG receives financial and promotional support from a group of partners comprising the Frankfurt Book Fair and German, Austrian and Swiss cultural organisations. Representatives of these partners also make up NBG's editorial committee with additional support from the magazine's publisher the British Centre for Literary Translation, the German Book Office New York, as well as a rotating array of enthusiastic and generous guests who are publishers, agents and literary translators. Those directly involved with NBG, though representing different countries within the German-speaking world, want to support and promote the best German-language literature regardless of nation and primarily wish to strengthen the image and rate of exchange of translated literature and the variety of literature available overall. They believe in translation. Extending this idea of variety and excellence, the Frankfurt Book Fair, which distributes the magazine internationally and stocks hundreds of issues at the Fair itself, has a similar focus on promoting international literary exchange and dialogue by hosting a guest of honour nation at each Fair. NBG is proud to reflect this in each autumn issue by publishing an interview or feature on the guest nation and their literature and a guest piece by the FBF that covers a current trend or issue within the international book market.


    NBG's editor of the last five years, Charlotte Ryland, has been taking the magazine and the project as a whole from strength to strength, finding new ways of promoting titles and the take up of books with new initiatives including the highly successful Emerging Translators Programme. The ETP was founded in 2011 as a way of finding and nurturing new translating talent while also helping promote the titles appearing in the magazine. Each spring, NBG invites translations of the same extract from a new German-language fiction title and commissions the translators of the six best submissions to translate samples from titles being reviewed in the upcoming NBG. They then get the chance to workshop their finished samples with an award-winning literary translator to perfect their work and learn about the process and career of a professional translator of fiction. It makes perfect sense to create a competition and immersive workshop alongside the magazine; what good is promoting German-language books if there aren't exceptional literary translators to translate them and publishers don't know where to find them? The ETP benefits all parties involved: the translators have the opportunity to hone their craft and get what is usually their first taste of translating literature professionally, the German-language publishers receive a polished sample translation at a reduced fee to use in their rights work and promotion, and NBG gets to meet the potential literary translators from German of the future that it can happily recommend to English-language publishers.


    Vital to the future success of literature in translation is for publications and platforms like NBG to continue getting information and resources to the right people, while also helping with international networking. Part of the wider, ongoing work of the project is to connect publishers with their foreign counterparts, and publishers with translators, so that the ultimate objective can be achieved: international authors' books reaching the hands of international readers. Though the languages may be different, the goals are the same: the diversification of literary voices and the sharing of incredible stories.

  • Dec 12, 2014
    Taiwan/Fiction, and all the way to France
    by Gwennaël Gaffric

    I was invited by Philippe Thiollier, editor of L'Asiathèque Publishing House, to direct a new imprint, Taiwan / Fiction, which we launched in October this year.


    Taiwan / Fiction is not strictly speaking the first dedicated series of Taiwanese literature in France. The Lettres Taïwanaises collection was created in 2000 by three professors, Chan Ching-Ho, Angel Pino and Isabelle Rabut, who have published (and sometimes translated) literary works by the Chu family (Chu Hsi-Ning, Chu T'ien-Wen and Chu T'ien-Hsin), Ch'en Yin-Chen, Chang Ta-Ch'un, Hwang Ch'un-Ming, and more recently Wuhe.


    Taiwan / Fiction's goal is somewhat different to that of the Lettres Taïwanaises imprint, since the texts we will translate and publish are primarily contemporary novels and not necessarily classics or already well recognised in the history of modern Taiwanese literature. We are instead interested in writers that appears to us to be representative of new voices, new viewpoints and new literary experiments from the island.


    We will concentrate on living authors who explore the changing world in which we live through their literature. Thus, we don't simply focus on historically 'representative' Taiwanese writers or literary movements, but authors whose works have a wider resonance, which are not limited to their own contexts. Of course, this doesn't mean that these authors can't talk about the singular Taiwanese experience, on the contrary, we would like to introduce in French works that can show that the Taiwanese experience illustrates and reveals the current state of our world, or generates fresh perspectives on it.


    In the original statement announcing the launch of our collection, we wrote as follows:

    [...] The ambition of the Taiwan / Fiction series is to translate and publish texts whose subjects and scope should go beyond Taiwan or the so-called 'Chinese world' to echo beyond it and offer new thoughts on global issues. Among them: environmental concerns, identities of local languages and cultures, the impact of colonialism on memory, of economic globalization on traditional ways of life, gender and sexuality, etc... The above topics do not necessarily imply a duty to publish so-called 'social activism' novels, but high-quality stories whose aspiration is not simply 'art for art's sake', but a wish to question our daily realities.


    Hence, we hope to introduce the authors we will publish not strictly as 'Taiwanese writers' but as 'global writers with a Taiwanese view on the world.' For example, the French translation of the Taiwanese writer Wu Ming-Yi's THE MAN WITH COMPOUND EYES recently received the French International Insular Book Award. It was the first Taiwanese novel to ever receive such award in France. We hope to promote Taiwanese literature in this same vein: Taiwanese literature should not only interact with 'literature written in Chinese language' or some separate space of 'Asian literature', but must be brought into a 'world literature', where Taiwan can speak to an international audience.


    Among the first texts we have selected, we will publish the queer science fiction novel MEMBRANES by Chi Ta-Wei and a unique literary experiment, the two screenplays written for the cinema classic A City Of Sadness, written by Wu Nien-Jen and Chu T'ien-Wen respectively.


    In the future, we would like to introduce to French-speaking readers a variety of texts, all thematically strong and of the highest literary merit, including novels and short stories by authors such as Badai, Kao Yi-Feng, Lai Hsiang-Yin, Wu Ming-Yi, Lo Yi-Jun, Wuhe, Hung Ling, Chen Hsuë, Chu Yu-Hsun and many more.


    But like in any new literary imprint, we too have encountered some (temporary) obstacles that we have had to overcome.


    Firstly, we face a problem common to all Taiwanese literature in translation, namely a basic lack of media interest when compared to other 'national' literatures, such as those of China, Japan and now Korea. It is therefore important to offer significant translations with an original point of view with respect to Asian literature in general, but also books that can attract the attention of a reader who isn't necessarily attracted by Taiwan itself at first glance. Texts on issues such as ecology, war, memory, sexual identity, the vitality and reinvention of ancient religions and cultures or new technologies seem to us very powerful in this regard.


    For decades, l'Asiathèque Publishing House has been a recognised and respected force in the French publishing industry specialising in texts relating to Asia. But until recent years, L'Asiathèque mostly published scientific and cultural books on the continent, such as works of classical literature and language textbooks, but very few contemporary novels. A challenge for us will be to seduce an audience who is not usually familiar with this kind of material from a publishing house such as L'Asiathèque. Hence the publication of the novel MEMBRANES, which is not only a high-quality work by a wonderful storyteller, but also offers cross readings on original issues. To us, this seems the perfect way to draw in future readers.


    Another challenge we are facing is that of the small number of French translators who are familiar with Taiwanese literature and society and the presence of different Taiwanese languages in literature from the island. This question was of particular pertinence while working on the oeuvre of Kan Yao-Ming, an author we particularly admire. However, our ambition is to work with young and talented translators and we are not afraid to experiment in order to recreate the same multilingual and multicultural textures we find in the original text.


    As for the rights market, since we have only just launched the series and L'Asiathèque is still not considered a publisher of general contemporary literature, it has not been easy to get a place and gain influence in the financial negotiation for the rights to contemporary works with big potential. We hope that the future success of our collection will allow us to simplify these procedures.


    A final problem is of course related to the funding needed to run a project like ours. It is difficult in the early stages to accurately assess the size of our potential readership and any financial investment is a risk. Hopefully, we will be able to access French and Taiwanese cultural grants to help us in this regard.


    But whatever the challenges, we are very excited about the road ahead and we can't wait to introduce to French readers the richness of Taiwanese literature.

  • Dec 12, 2014
    Taiwanese Literature Off the Page
    by Darryl Sterk

    For me, until the summer of 2011, Taiwan literature had mostly been 'on the page', so to speak. I'd been translating for the Taipei Chinese Pen for several years. The Pen would send me an essay and a story, and I would translate it, rewrite it several dozen times and send it to the editor and proofreader for suggestions or corrections, which I would mostly ignore before going on to rewrite it again. But in the summer of 2011, I met Gray Tan and was soon engaged to translate a sample of Wu Ming-Yi's THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES about a trash vortex in the Pacific. Little did I know I would soon be engulfed in a vortex of activities related to literary translation. I kept translating in my own fashion. But in time, I also had to do a lot of extra-textual events, for which I wasn't exactly trained. I was a Sinologist, writing my dissertation on post-war Taiwanese film and fiction. Ask anyone doing a Ph.D. on contemporary literature and you'll hear a lot about critical readings of different kinds: Marxist, feminist, postcolonial, New Historicist, whatever. When I got my Ph.D., I was proud of how 'critical' I had become and how well I was able to 'read'. But for better or for worse, there was no time for critical rants about capitalism in the extra-textual activities which became a natural extension of my translation of THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES. Indeed, the novel was itself partly a capitalist commodity and my job was to promote it. A Ph.D. is no practice for promote things and was worried that I wouldn't be able to do it. Luckily, Gray Tan picked the right book, particularly for me. THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES is easy to be enthusiastic about, and the writer, as I soon discovered, is a really nice guy. Wu Ming-Yi's environmental concern is something I share and his scientific knowledge, of tiger butterflies, Moltrechi's tree frogs and albino banyan trees, simply blows me away. The audiences I addressed were mostly people who love literature and care about the environment. Promotion has never been easier.


    So what extra-textual activities did I have to undertake? Actually, 'where' would be a better question. When Gray Tan sold the English translation rights to Harvill Secker in November of 2011, it was a milestone. Several dozen Taiwanese novels had been published in English before, but all with university or boutique presses like Columbia University Press or the Gay Sunshine Press, which published Howard Goldblatt's translation, CRYSTAL BOYS. Wu Ming-Yi was the first Taiwanese writer to be taken on by a major English language trade publisher. Naturally, the success story made waves and a year and a half later, when I delivered the final draft to the editor, the Ministry of Culture decided to organize what I took to calling a World Book Tour. Actually it was only to North America, but it was still a Big Deal. In the space of several weeks I committed myself to three intercontinental trips: New York and Toronto in October 2013, San Francisco in February 2014 and Montreal in May 2014.


    As soon as I got to New York I paid a visit to the offices of Random House, where Lexy Bloom and the folks in charge of the Vintage Pantheon imprint—which the American edition of THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES bears—are located. Wu Ming-Yi had arrived from Germany, where he was attending the Frankfurt Book Fair. We had a conversation about how to market the novel, focusing not only on the Taiwanese community in North America but also on readers of speculative or fantastical fiction. After brief photo shoot, we went back to the hotel to rest a bit before the evening event, a speech at the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office. Wu Ming-Yi and I did a reading from the second chapter of the novel, which describes the traditional lifestyle of the people of Wayo Wayo and introduces Atile'i, the main character. I talked about the process of translation, comparing the different versions of specific sentences or passages from the translation and attempting to explain and justify my final version. We got a warm reception from the audience of about fifty, including a little old Jewish lady, who was there with a Taiwanese friend. I promised her I would send her a copy but promptly mislaid her address.


    After dinner with New York-based Taiwanese graduate students, we flew to Toronto to give a talk at my alma mater, the University of Toronto, on inspirations for the novel and its translation. I talked about the end of Thoreau's WALDEN, about the 'strong and beautiful bug' that comes out of the table made from apple wood, in reference to the stag beetle in THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES which Alice Shih pierces with a needle, only to discover it still alive several days later, pacing the void with its three pairs of legs. I gave an interview for the Toronto Star, which really gave us a nice write-up the next day. The following evening, we were on stage for the International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre with a Portuguese writer who was talking about translation even though he didn't know his translator, and who was intrigued by my translation of the Chinese word for penis into English in the scene where Dahu's father takes Dahu to the seaside and squeezes his little willy (not his cock, which, the Portuguese author observed, would have belonged in an entirely different novel).


    The second trip we took was to San Francisco, at the invitation of Professor Andrew Jones at Berkeley. We heard scholars talk about the legal and scientific ramifications of the Great Pacific Trash Vortex, which in THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES turns into a floating trash mountain that crashes into Taiwan's east coast. Occupying the high seas, which are under no nation's jurisdiction, the vortex is no one nation's responsibility. I talked about mythopoeia in the novel: the Atlantis myth of the people of Wayo Wayo is a moral fable about the ecological need for limits on human desire. We visited the People's Park, went past Ursula K. Le Guin's old house—Le Guin had written a blurb for THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES in which she said, 'Wu Ming-Yi treats human vulnerability and the world's vulnerability with fearless tenderness'—and saw an intrepid river otter at the seaside. A miracle. Before we left we heard that the city authorities were banning plastic bottles.


    The third trip we took was to Montreal for the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. We all had a good impression of the city itself, especially the bagels and the murals. The event we performed at the Blue Met went very well. We were interviewed by the lovely Yan Liang, who is also a writer and who works at the CBC. The questions she asked we had heard a dozen times before: What was the most difficult part to translate? Why the mixture of technical and lyrical? Where did the inspiration for the plot come from? And a bit more specifically: Why can the man with the compound eyes only observe, not intervene? Ming-Yi answered that the man is based on the Guanyin Bodhisattva, who, similarly observes the suffering of all sentient beings in the world without offering help.


    On all these trips, at all these events, I was called upon to interpret for Ming-Yi, which initially was quite a challenge. As a translator I had received no special training in interpreting. I never learned how to take notes. Thankfully, Ming-Yi divided his remarks into minute long chunks, which I was able to turn into comprehensible English. I'd read a lot about Ming-Yi and of course I was intimately familiar with THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES. After all the events we've done together I've learned even more, about his hardscrabble upbringing in a mall called the Chunghwa Market which was torn down several years before I made it to Taipei in 1995. About his university days in mass communication. About his environmental and literary baptism and his decision to become a novelist against his father's wishes. (Sadly, his father never lived to see his son become so successful.) About how he fell in love with butterflies and with Aldo Leopold, the great American observer of nature's rhythms. About how he wrote and organized sit-ins against a project to build a massive petrochemical refinery on a wetland! About the history of the environmental movement in Taiwan and the history of Taiwanese nature literature. About his plans for his next novel, a story of a bicycle thief that also tells of Taiwan's industrialization over the past several decades. After the fact, I think I am at least a competent Chinese-English interpreter for Wu Ming-Yi. (Gwennaël Gaffric, who did his Ph.D. dissertation on Wu Ming-Yi's writing, would be the man to interpret into French.)


    Was the World Tour worth it? I think of it in Buddhist terms, as planting seeds. Some seeds will not sprout, others will grow beyond your wildest imagination. Some of those seeds must be silently growing as I type, even though it feels like we are going through a lull in the buzz we generated from last October to May of this year. Wu Ming-Yi and I were invited to a literary festival in Burma, but were both too busy to go: maybe next year. There's been talk of taking us around Asia, to Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore. THE MAN WITH THE COMPOUND EYES is a great novel and might go on to become a sleeper hit. As it's said in Chinese, one tells ten, and ten tell a hundred; I've been sending one copy to ten, hoping that ten will send copies to a hundred. I've sent several paperbacks to Captain Charles Moore, who discovered the Great Pacific Trash Vortex, and to anyone I can think of who likes speculative fiction and who is concerned about environmental issues. I'm still looking for the address of that little old Jewish lady from New York.


    Christmas is coming up: I have a great present idea for you.