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  • Whence the Clunker? or, Towards Improving the Style of English Translations of Sinophone Fiction (II)
    By Joshua Dyer
    May 04, 2021

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=131

     

    Fickle friends and rhetorical flow

    The need to sometimes rely on direct translation techniques can also inadvertently detract from clarity. The clunker above, for example, might have suggested an alternate interpretation, i.e. it was the chance to be together in the mountains that made the young couple start singing with joy, not the fact of being there. Fortunately, the context of the passage makes this interpretation impossible — they are clearly in the mountains when they start singing — but what if it hadn’t? What if we encountered a passage in which the meaning of a given sentence was translated correctly, but its intent was still obscure, because its wording didn’t connect to the rhetorical context of the passage as a whole? The sentence would have preserved meaning in the narrowest sense, while having lost the thrust, the narrative logic. It would amount to a clunker on the discourse level, rather than the sentence level.

    An example of this kind of clunker can be found in another Sinophone novel that won prestigious awards based on the English translation. In this passage, a character describes his reaction to words of wisdom imparted by the abbot of a Buddhist monastery:

     

    The abbot shook his head and said, “No, emptiness is not nothingness. Emptiness is a type of existence. You must use this existential emptiness to fill yourself.”

    His words were very enlightening to me. Later, after I thought about it a bit, I realized that it wasn’t Buddhist philosophy at all, but was more akin to some modern physics theories. The abbot also told me he wasn’t going to discuss Buddhism with me. His reason was the same as my high school teacher’s: with my sort, he’d just be wasting his time.

     

    The translation is accurate in the particulars, but the reader may struggle a to grasp the mechanics of the discourse. One problem lies in the rhetorical looseness of the phrase: “The abbot also told me…” The phrase suggests two possibilities. Either this is something the abbot said in addition to what came before, or it is something said first by someone else, and then said by the abbot as well. When I first read the passage I assumed the former interpretation, but was bothered by the rhetorical clunkiness of the phrase. What was the intent behind this sentence? Perhaps I had misunderstood, and there was a “someone else,” the high school teacher, perhaps? I went back to read the passages concerning the teacher, but I found that this interpretation made no sense either. Only after reading the Chinese source text did I understand the rhetorical logic: first the narrator concludes that what he was taught was not Buddhism. Then, he reveals that the abbot had said something that also supported that conclusion. In this context, the phrase might best have been rendered, “Indeed, the abbot had told me he wasn’t going to discuss Buddhism with me.” Rhetorically speaking, its function is to confirm the narrator’s assessment that what he was told was not Buddhism.

    The Chinese text was more clear since the word ye (也) (rendered as “also” in the translation) did not so deeply suggest the alternate interpretation, while at the same time it cast a wider net for what sort of action was being repeated. It wasn’t that the abbot told him something that someone else “also” told him, rather that the abbot’s words also reinforced his own conclusions. My rewording of this rhetorical logic shows that “also” is not necessarily the wrong word choice, but how it is interpreted is dependent on the exact phrasing of the current sentence, the general rhetorical flow of the passage, and even earlier events that might be textually far removed  within the novel (which is why I went back to reread passages concerning the narrator’s high school teacher). In short,  the direct translation from Chinese produced a semantically equivalent English phrase that nonetheless failed to maintain rhetorical continuity with the surrounding text The confusion arises from a failure to attend to the dimension of discourse, perhaps because the translator had already determined on the sentence level that a direct translation of the Chinese would be adequate. Again, the biases introduced by the process of triage — selecting what can and cannot be translated directly — can have far reaching consequences that will only become apparent when the English rendering is complete, and can be understood in its own context.

    Naturally, European languages will also lay traps for translators. The problem of “false friends” is well known, where a word in the target language appears to be a close match for a word in the source language, but in fact carries a very different meaning. The problem in Chinese to English translation, however, seems to be one of “fickle friends” that sometimes operate in relatively equivalent ways, and sometimes lead you astray. This may be due to the fact that there is very little genetic relationship between the languages, so similar structures are never true cognates. Their similarity is only skin deep, and is bound to mask vast differences as well — perhaps differences of usage, tone, register, voice, or, as we have just noted, rhetorical function. But, at the same time, the process of triage demands that we leverage whatever similarities are available to avoid being overwhelmed by the depth of the chasm that must be bridged.

    Most translators will be familiar with these fickle friends, because they will sometimes root them out while editing their work for improved readability and stylistic effect. Yet, some clunkers, rhetorical or otherwise, still make it into the final draft. A few reasons for this have already been suggested. The translator may be reluctant to return to the original text and attempt an entirely new approach, instead attempting to massage the existing translation into a better form. It is also possible that there were more prominent issues that demanded the translator’s attention during the most recent pass of editing (essentially the concept of triage applied to editing). Alternatively, after numerous passes, the translator may have simply become accustomed to the offending sentence — the classic case of needing “new eyes” to identify old problems.

     

    On domesticating the clunker

    Having explored some of the reasons that unintended clunkers may persist in our translations, we are now forced to consider another possibility — that some clunkers weren’t accidents! I’ve done my best to focus on shaky passages that most readers will agree need improvement, but one cannot account for taste, and some translators and readers might argue that they like a translated book to be a little rough around the edges. Most often, this preference is defended as a means to preserve the feel of the original text, and is typically is achieved through a more direct style of translation. This strain of thought has developed into an entire theoretical school that argues for the foreignization of translations, that is, leaving as many traces of the foreign origin of the text as possible, while resisting the urge to domesticate the text for ease of consumption by the target audience. Moreover, thinkers of this school feel that it is an ethical imperative not to allow the target language to dominate the rendering of the foreign text as that would be equivalent to forced assimilation of the text, and the erasure of its cultural roots.

    A thorough critique of this theory would require a separate article. Here we need only focus on how it relates to the problem of clunkers, and see if it changes our view on correcting them. Here is a sample from a translator who advocates the foreignizing approach: “Shen’s question stunned Wang for a moment. He forced himself to be calm so he wouldn’t fall into a trap.” We can begin to reduce some clunk by first removing “for a moment.” It is unnecessary because readers can infer that Wang isn’t stunned for long, as he immediately sets about trying to calm himself. However, I suspect “calm” is not quite the sense of the word meant in the Chinese; “composed” would be a better fit. Also, some rewording to reduce clutter will help maintain the sense of urgency. This yields: “Shen’s question stunned Wang. Wary of a trap, he forcibly composed himself.”

    However, should we be concerned that some of the flavor of the Chinese is lost with these changes? Is there something about the aesthetics of the Chinese language, or the personal style of the author, that is revealed when a suspenseful passage is wordier, or when “for a moment” pops up where English style dictates it shouldn’t? One could ask the same question of our first example. Was something uniquely Chinese conveyed by stacking infinitives and thereby repeating the word “to”? Simply asking these questions forces one to confront their at least one aspect of their absurdity, because we realize it is the English context that dictates how those features are to be interpreted, not the Chinese context from which they originate. The reader of the English translation cannot possibly infer that the Chinese infinitives flowed better when stacked together, or that “for a moment” is not cumbersome in Chinese since it is a single lexical item rather than the three required in English. Lacking these insights, a generous reader might conclude that it must have sounded better in Chinese, but won’t have any idea how that something-better actually sounded. A less generous reader will simply conclude it is a poorly written book, or one that needed more editing, or a better translator. In conclusion, a clunker is still best removed, because for the English reader it can only reflect poorly on the book. Put another way, poor English does not seem well-suited to conveying proper Chinese.

    Again, we are simply addressing the clunkers, and not this approach to translation in general. In places where the English actually works, there is no reason we can’t use word-for-word translations that reveal the structure of the Chinese. Even after cleaning up clunkers, most translations will still exhibit a fair amount of literal translation, because the process of triage demands it. Translators will nearly always opt for direct translation when they feel certain it will work. The intent of this article is only to bring attention to the fact that sometimes when we think it’s working, it’s not.

    In my own translation work I don’t fear losing much by domesticating problematic portions of the text. Other dimensions of the novel — plot structure, character development, social and political context, and so on — will all bear strong marks of the novel’s culture of origin and continue to foreignize the work even as it is presented in a new language. In fact, as long as a translator isn’t rearranging, cutting, or altering the text wholesale, I find it hard to imagine an English translation of  Sinophone fiction that a sensitive reader would mistake for a novel originally written in English. The generally poor sales of translated fiction, particularly those translated from Chinese, should be enough to tell us that readers, for the most part, feel like these books are still too foreign for their tastes. Or, perhaps that simply reminds us of the point that I am making here: we need to be doing a better job. It could be that an English readership would more readily consume translations out of Chinese that maintained a higher standard of clarity, style, and readability.

     

    Can we clunker-proof a translation?

    Over the years I have altered my work habits to better safeguard against clunkers. Rather than rush through my first translation draft on the assumption I will work out the kinks in editing, I now take the time needed to develop a fairly readable and stylish first draft. In doing this, I hope to avoid falling too deeply into the triage mentality. The more rushed I am, the more likely I am to declare that certain passages probably won’t require much thought. As explained above, these lacuna in our attention are the places where clunkers often take root. It also makes sense to develop a better first draft because I am aware of my own reluctance to rework a passage from scratch. Thus the better it reads in the first draft, the more likely it is that a few more tweaks will be enough to get it into an acceptable final form. What I hope to avoid is a situation where I have convinced myself that those few minor tweaks were good enough, when in fact they only left the sentence in a state of mildly improved clunkiness. Creating a better first draft also means there are fewer clunkers to address in editing. Hopefully they will stand out more, and I can fix them in the first round of editing. That way there is less risk of my becoming accustomed to them over repeated passes.

    Clearly, editors also have a major role to play in this process. However, on the evidence of the clunkers in print, one might suspect that editors are exercising a light touch with translations out of Chinese (as I said before, I doubt these clunkers would have slipped past in a manuscript originally written in English). Or, perhaps the situation faced by the editor is not so different to that of the translator: confronted by a translated text that defies many conventions of English writing, the editor applies a strategy of triage, over-attending to some issues while under-attending to others. Some editors may even be entranced by their own version of the theory of foreignization. Perhaps they assume that within those clunkers lurks something inherently Chinese, or something integral to the voice of the author that they dare not touch for fear of overly domesticating it.

    For these reasons that I am particularly happy to be writing in this forum where I can potentially reach people in book editing and acquisitions. These are professionals who have a say in what makes it into a published translation. Regardless of whether a clunker appeared by intent or neglect, it is worthwhile to point it out to your translator. If it was an oversight, the translator will be grateful. If it was a failed attempt at foreignization, the editor is hopefully now better armed to successfully argue that point. And hopefully translators who read this will be more open to amending their clunkers, even if they are committed to a more foreignizing approach. In the struggle to better represent the voices of Sinophone authors in English, eliminating what is worst in our translations can be an effective means of highlighting their best.

  • Whence the Clunker? or, Towards Improving the Style of English Translations of Sinophone Fiction (I)
    By Joshua Dyer
    May 04, 2021

    Over nearly a decade as a translator, editor, and enthusiast of Sinophone fiction I’ve naturally developed certain expectations for how Chinese books feel when rendered in English. Sadly, not all of those expectations are positive. This impression was recently highlighted to me as I read two translations from European languages, one a French work of non-fiction, the other a German novel. Both displayed a facility and clarity of English style that I rarely, if ever, encounter in books translated from Chinese. Why is this?

    One could argue that Western European languages share an aesthetic and literary heritage that allows many aspects of style to be more directly transferred from one language to another. This is probably true, however, the apparent superiority of these translations is not just a matter of achieving stylistic heights: these works translated from French and German were also remarkably free of stylistic lows — sentences or passages that sounded flat to my English ear. In books translated from Chinese, sadly, I have come to expect a certain proportion of clunkers, phrases that not only lack in style, but which seem to actively undermine it by employing patterns or word choices that are hallmarks of amateurish writing in English — so much so, in fact, that I suspect an editor would have rejected them in a manuscript for an original novel in English.

    So, why does this happen? Even if the aesthetics and style of Sinophone literature are not easily transferable into English, shouldn’t we at least be able to maintain minimum standards for style and readability? How do translators, professionals with a deep love of language, allow shoddy turns of phrase, to slip past their guard? There are a few possible answers I would like to explore in this article. One is that the clunkers are the unintended consequence of the translation strategies we employ to deal with the vast differences between the Chinese and English languages. Another possibility is that the translator has developed a tolerance, or even a preference, for the feel of relatively direct translations out of Chinese, believing that it better preserves the style of the original, or helps convey a more authentic experience of foreign literature, even if it violates stylistic standards imposed by English.

     

    The inertia of initial assessments

    Setting aside for the moment the possibility of intentionally introduced clunkers, let’s first explore how they might be the side-effect of particular translation strategies. Whether consciously or unconsciously, translators might be adopting a strategy of triage that will help them identify the most problematic parts of the text, and dedicate more resources to their translation. The problem areas are often those that defy direct translation, and thus require creative workarounds. The less problematic areas, then, are those that appear to be amenable to a more direct style of translation, and thus can be handled mechanically, with relatively little time investment. In this scenario, the clunkers could be the result of something that was initially determined to be a good candidate for direct translation, but which, in practice, yields poor results. Having committed to the course of direct translation, the translator may then become blind to other options, or may feel reluctant to conduct a thorough reevaluation, which would amount to deeper investments of time and energy within the overall framework of triage.

    In one highly praised translation from Chinese, a pair of love-struck adolescents from a tribal village go up a mountain to do some work. The character narrating their story tells us: “They felt so happy to have the chance to go into the mountains to do some work together they started taking turns singing songs they made up themselves.” The sentence feels unnecessarily wordy, and the first half of the sentence is made awkward by the repeated “to” sound.

    Looking back at the Chinese I can see how the translator might have ended up with this clunker. Towards the end of the sentence there is a phrase that, directly rendered in English, looks like this: “for a moment you sing, for a moment I sing.” I suspect that in the process of triage, the translator decided to focus his energy on this phrase that defied direct translation, justifiably glossing it as “taking turns singing songs,” while applying the less painstaking methods of direct translation to the first part of the sentence.

    Unfortunately, the first part of the sentence, which structurally doesn’t appear to present any problems for direct translation, becomes a monster when the English words are finally slotted into place. First of all, in English, the infinitive forms of the verbs are required, creating “to have… to go… to do,” while the Chinese verbs have no infinitive form and are thus free of repetition. Purely by chance, the English words for “into” and “together” also repeat the “to,” a problem that’s also not present in the Chinese. Even though the rough grammatical similarities of the English and Chinese make it appear that direct translation is a reasonable option, the overall effect is heavily dependent on the particular lexical items that are used. In this case they create a phrase that is grammatically correct, and conveys the meaning, but does not do good stylistic service to the novel.

    A few more components of this sentence cry out for help. “Songs they made up themselves” follows the Chinese closely, but why not the simpler “made-up songs?” Direct translation might have suggested itself as an efficient approach — English certainly allows the phrase “songs they made up themselves” — but this may have only masked other options. “They felt so happy” is not egregious, but enough writing teachers have spoken about the overuse of the word “feel” in poor writing that we would be wise to avoid it if possible.

    Correcting for all of the above yields: “They were so happy to have some time working together in the mountains they started taking turns singing made-up songs.” Further fixes might be suggested, but I’ll stop there, because I want to stay focused on the relatively simple and objective issue of clunkers, rather than the more refined and subjective issue of what makes good style.

    Note that the changes I suggest all require a shift away from direct translation. “To have the chance,” becomes “to have some time” because the former must be followed by an infinitive, while the latter does not. The verb phrase “to go into” is eliminated entirely, as it didn’t add anything to the sentence, but it did create problems with further repetitions of “to.” With each change we have moved away from the grammatical considerations of the Chinese towards the aesthetic concerns of the English. We know that the translator wasn’t opposed to a more free style of translation, because he came up with the very free “taking turns singing songs.” Clearly, some kind of decision was made that certain phrases required a free approach, and others did not. It seems logical that this decision, which I have been referring to as triage, is made at a stage when the translator is looking exclusively at the source text in Chinese. Thus the decision is probably based on an analysis of the Chinese grammar structures and vocabulary, combined with a mental assessment of whether similar structure and vocabulary are available in English. However, as the example demonstrates, when the two languages differ as greatly as English and Chinese, we can’t really understand the overall stylistic impact of that decision until the English is actually put in place. The availability of those structures and vocabulary in English only confirms that the direct translation will reproduce the something close to the meaning of the original. It doesn’t tell us much about the tone, style, register, or, in this case, the readability of the resulting phrase. There remains the question of why the translator or editor didn’t fix this awkward phrase in later passes through the text. We will address this question more fully later on. For now, suffice to say that in any complex task, initial decisions develop a kind of inertia. We are reluctant to go back and alter them because it feels like it will require greater investment of time and energy within a process that is constrained by the urgency of triage.

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=132

  • Taiwan’s Cultural Diversity on Display in Original Picture Books (II)
    By Catrina Liu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Apr 29, 2021

    Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=127

     

    Immigration, Interaction, Integration: Taiwan’s Newest Residents in Picture Books

    The most recently arrived residents of Taiwan mostly hail from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries. While Taiwan has an Immigrant Worker’s Literature Prize to encourage native-language writing by immigrants, for practical reasons very few non-Chinese books are commercially published in Taiwan. Thus we find that picture books on the cultures of immigrant groups often adopt a third-person perspective, looking from the outside in.

     

    Sun Hsin-Yu’s Emma, Mother adopts a child’s point-of-view to observe the life of Emma, a foreign domestic worker who juggles roles from housekeeper to nanny, even as she dearly misses her homeland. Chen Yingfan’s The Sweetness of Apples is written from the perspective of the daughter of a foreign bride from Vietnam who recounts her mother’s story. The daughter’s experiences growing non-native plants from seeds reflect her mother’s life in Taiwan, where she learns to adapt and eventually thrive on foreign soil.

     

    Malaysian author/illustrator Maniniwei, on the other hand, speaks directly from her own immigrant experience. Her retelling of a Malaysian folk tale, Mat Jenin, published bilingually in Mandarin and Malay, gives readers an authentic taste of Malaysian culture.

     

    While most of the above books were written and published in Mandarin, in keeping with the societal movement towards local language use, publishers are also beginning to experiment with Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and aboriginal language children’s books. Animo Chen’s Love Letter is one such book, written and published in Hokkien, while the first Taiwanese Hokkien translation of The Little Prince made a splash upon publication in 2020. Current indications are that we can continue to look forward to children’s books representing a wide variety of languages and cultural backgrounds, granting young readers a larger window on Taiwan’s cultural diversity.

     

    Animo Chen

  • Taiwan’s Cultural Diversity on Display in Original Picture Books (I)
    By Catrina Liu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Apr 28, 2021

    In recent years, Taiwan’s picture book market — long dominated by translated titles from overseas — has seen a new wave of creative output by local authors and illustrators. Drawing source material from daily life, these books are an important contribution to the preservation of traditional culture, and, owing to the diverse backgrounds of their creators, they successfully highlight Taiwan’s cultural diversity.

     

    Han Chinese authors, representing Taiwan’s dominant cultural stream, have no shortage of works that revolve around traditional culture, most often focusing on iconic subjects like local legends, festivals, and crafts. Sisters Wang Jiazhen and Wang Jiazhu collaborated on Auntie Tiger, a retelling of three ancient legends whose exquisitely evocative illustrations were accepted into the Illustrator’s Exhibition at the 2007 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Chang You-Ran’s My Little Blue Dress, constructed around the premise of a little girl who suffers from skin allergies, introduces readers to the traditional indigo dyeing techniques of Taiwan’s mountainous Sanxia region, while also highlighting faith in regional deities such as Tudigong, the earth god, and Zushiye, the deified spirit of a famous Buddhist monk. In Beyond Dajia’s Gate, author/illustrator Ballboss, whose work has also been shown at the Illustrator’s Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, explores the Mazu procession, one of Taiwan’s most famous religious events, while telling a touchingly personal tale set within a rich atmosphere of village life.

     

    MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS

     

    Preserving and Promoting Native Traditions: Aboriginal-Themed Works

    When it comes to multiculturalism, we cannot ignore the 16 legally-recognized native groups whose ancestors were the earliest inhabitants of Taiwan. The majority of the current batch of aboriginal-themed picture books answer the need for increased recognition of native culture by narrating native myths and legends, depicting the traditional way of life of various tribal groups, and exploring their relationship to the natural environment.

     

    Lai Ma’s Gold Sun, Silver Sun blends a number of native legends into an origin myth about an archer who must shoot down the sun to save his people. Aboriginal author Neqou Sokluman’s My Grandfather the Hunter delves into the Bunun people’s affective connections to the Formosan Black Bear, using cultural transmission as a lens to understand the ecological wisdom of the Bunun ancestors. Taiwan also has non-fiction picture books on native themes, such as The Fish that Flew Across the Sky, in which flying fish serve as an entry point for exploring the culture of the Tao people.

     

    Some aboriginal-themed picture books attempt to break out of the “cultural tour” mode of presentation. Although Phenol Boy is set against the backdrop of Pastaay, an important festival of the Saisiyat people, the moral of the story relates to the universal value of forgiveness. Constructing the narrative in this way allows the book to meet the needs of a broad range of readers, while also clarifying the intimate connection between the festival and the concept of remorse in Saisiyat culture.

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=128

  • Bearing the Burdens of History (II)
    By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Apr 12, 2021

    Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=125

    Under the vicissitudes of colonization and cultural assimilation, Salizan’s Bunun ancestors, proud hunters and stewards of the forest, so well-versed in the wisdom of the head strap, became laborers serving at the whims of others, and the head strap became the tool that sped the demise of their culture. For, after subduing the Bunun people, the Japanese colonial regime relocated them out of the mountain highlands and forced them to work as coolies, a move that cut off the tribe from their ancestral lands. Mr. Lin Yuan-Yuan, a Bunun elder, told Salizan a grisly tale on one of their expeditions into the mountains: “There was an Isbukun Bunun named Vilan who was also (forced into) carrying Chinese juniper wood. His family was from Mashisan. He borrowed a rifle from the Japanese to go hunting. He took it to the old family home and shot himself because he wanted to die in the same house as his parents.”

    Salizan Takisvilainan

    In “Monuments of Sorrow” Salizan tells how the way of life of the tribes people was transformed by the roads, residences, and schools built by the Japanese as they pushed their way into the mountain highlands, with all the force of empire behind them. As their territory shrank, the Bunun people were forced into labor, exploited. In battle after battle, conflict after conflict, the blood of the Bunun people was spilled, soaking the earth, but the memorials that were built invariably celebrated the Japanese invaders. The only legacies left to the natives who died defending their land were criminal records. In “Trail of Tears” readers are guided through the reconstruction of a stone house. Through the careful stacking of the stone flags, a process requiring almost reverential patience, the ruins of an old home are gradually restored, along with the vanishing construction techniques of the Bunun people.

     

    According to Salizan, his direct ancestors were relocated from the mountain highlands at 2000 meters down to a new settlement at 300 meters. He has already gathered a mountain of documentary evidence and oral accounts of this event. In time he will collate and organize these materials, and write the story of his own family’s upheaval from their ancestral lands.

     

    I stand atop the summit;

    From my tribal culture, I face these ranges.

    Let me and the land of my ancestors once more produce new meaning.

    - Salizan Takisvilainan “Homeland, Village, Person”

  • Bearing the Burdens of History (I)
    By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Apr 12, 2021

    We are told that during the Age of Discovery, as the Portuguese explorers sailed past Taiwan for the first time, they cried out in astonishment, “Ilha formosa!” (“Beautiful island!”). Indeed, Taiwan is a rich and fertile land, blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna. Its geography is diverse, its landscape both pleasing and well-suited for human inhabitation. Although research now suggests that first people to call this island Formosa were likely Spanish colonists, the story of the Portuguese explorers has long since become a touchstone of pride for all Taiwanese, and a powerful echo of the reverence that binds its aboriginal people to the island, their spiritual mother.

     

    Taiwan and much of Latin America occupy parallel histories: colonization by the Spanish; periods of dictatorial rule followed by struggles for independence. Over the course of history, control of Taiwan has successively passed from the aboriginal inhabitants to the Dutch, to the Spaniards, to the Tungning Kingdom (the Ming successor state established by Koxinga), to the Qing Dynasty, to Imperial Japan, to the Kuomintang, before finally flowering under modern democracy. Alongside this intermingling of cultures and bloodlines, Taiwan’s literature has developed into the variegated display of forms we see today. Yet, because they originally had no written language to record their stories, the literature of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples has only gradually, through the tireless labor of dedicated individuals, gained belated recognition.

     

    For Salizan Takisvilainan, a young poet of the Bunun people who left his tribal lands to pursue an education but eventually returned, drawn by the deep love of his native culture, the barriers to cultural preservation presented by the lack of a written language are all too real. To better grapple with these challenges, he established Millet String Publishing House, an independent publisher based in Nakahila Village, Jhuosi Township, Hualien County. A laborer of language, a bearer of words, Salizan uses the Latin alphabet to phonetically record the stories of village elders, and prepares them for native-language publication. So far, he has produced A Simple Dictionary of the Takbanuaz Dialect of the Bunun Language, An Oral Account of the Kasibanan Incident, and Mipakaliva: Age of Legend – Myths of the Bunun People of Jhuosi Township. Concurrent with his publishing work, Salizan has worked as a mountain guide and porter, and undertook the writing of Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters.

     

    After completing his obligatory military service, Salizan began following tribal elders into the mountains, where, over the next ten-plus years, he gathered materials for the Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters, three pieces of reportage comprising his personal experiences supplemented by a plethora of practical field studies. The eponymous first essay deals with heads straps, the indispensable tools of transport of his ancestors – woven headbands from which a large basket was suspended, allowing one to bear weight with the head and neck, while the basket rests against the back. In earlier times, head straps allowed Bunun tribesman to carry quarry home after a hunt, or to transport the large stone flags needed to build stone houses.

    Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=126

  • Chopsticks, Batons, and Authorial Acrobatics: A Collaboration Between Editor and Writers (II)
    By Kaiting Chan (Editor of Chopsticks) ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Apr 12, 2021

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=123

    We hoped readers would sense subtle connections linking the three stories based on the prompts alone, and then the last two stories could surprise readers by creating a more coherent whole. The idea of “passing the baton” to the next writer became another critical step in the book’s development. Although the collaborative framework of the book would be laid out there on the book jacket, we hoped the experience of reading the linked stories would far surpass the mere explication. For Xiao Xiang Shen, the author of “The Dream of the Crocodile”, this wasn’t his first time receiving the baton from another writer. He had already proved himself writing in the relay race format, which is why we assigned him the fourth story. The first three stories were a superstitious tale of horror, a suspense story laced with romance, and a mystery fusing a tale of detection with elements of social realism. With the fourth story, Xiao Xiang Shen expanded the blueprint of the book by writing from an almost sociological perspective, addressing the culture of chopsticks, and the difficulties faced by young women in contemporary Asian society. While surprising, “The Dream of the Crocodile” provided a satisfying conclusion, which only increased the difficulty of the challenge faced by the fifth writer. Now that the string of chopsticks-related incidents had reached a perfect conclusion, what was Chan Ho-Kei to write about?

    Xiao Xiang Shen

    I consider this the final miracle of the book, a miracle woven by five writers. This isn’t just a collaboration between writers. It is an acrobatic competition with five performers on the same stage, all attempting to outdo each other. In addition to addressing the themes assigned by the editorial team, each is throwing down the gauntlet to the writers that follow. “What materials are you going to harvest from my story? Are you going to tie up the loose ends?” Or perhaps, “Will you notice the little mysteries I left unsolved?” The last two writers are the wide receivers, catching the compositional elements and foreshadowing thrown to them by the first three, possibly even picking up a fumble or two. They are expanding the scope of the book, while, at the same time, stitching its pieces together and cleaning up loose threads. Even more astounding is the fact that none of the writers were acquainted with each other before beginning the book. All they had in common was that they were all mystery writers. The synchronicities that emerge between the writers’ stories is a product of their passion, spirit, and professionalism.

    Chan Ho-Kei

    I’m not confident we could actually pull off another miracle like this one. Just getting authors interested in this kind of collaboration is rare and wonderful enough, like spotting a shooting star at night. After coming up with the basic themes, Xerses, JeTauZi, and I invited Chan Ho-Kei to join us. He immediately began advocating that “good stories know no borders”, which set us on the path of inviting a Japanese writer to join the project, giving form to our transnational concept. Mitsuda Shinzo, a talented writer of supernatural stories, is held in high regard by Taiwanese readers. When it came time to write the final story, Chan Ho-Kei was assisted by a timeline of the events of the previous four stories drawn up by Xiao Xiang Shen, which helped him to locate points where he could weave the threads of the stories together. Nearly every stage of this book would have proved impossible but for the experience and quality of the other writers on the team. Everything about this rare and unique process of creation exceeded our imagining, except, perhaps, for the cliché that once good writers get started, they can’t put down their pens—every story ended up running over our assigned word counts!

     

    Chopsticks is an unexpected success of a book, with its imagination-defying plot and rarely-seen literary pyrotechnics. Combining horror, mystery, fantasy, romance, and science fiction, all built on a foundation of chopstick lore, the book illustrates the cultural commonalities and differences between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Simultaneously, the interactions between these five masters of fiction reveals the unique literary characteristics of each region. One book, five stories, rife with ingenious plotting, stunning authorial acrobatics, and a thick atmosphere of mystery and horror distilled from one of the most familiar objects in East Asian culture. We simply cannot wait for these literary pleasures to be enjoyed by book lovers from around the world.

  • Chopsticks, Batons, and Authorial Acrobatics: A Collaboration Between Editor and Writers (I)
    By Kaiting Chan (Editor of CHOPSTICKS) ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Apr 12, 2021

    Chopsticks has been a long journey, one which has yet to reach its end. As the first original book from Apex Press, it has sold surprisingly well in the Taiwan market, receiving rave reviews from readers and critics alike. The tailwinds have held strong, and with the help of numerous people, the book will soon be available to readers in South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. At this point Chopsticks has taken on a life of its own, one never envisioned by the editor and publisher. It’s the fans who are now opening new horizons for the book.

    Chopsticks

    Combining the talents of writers Mitsuda Shinzo, Xerses, JeTauZi, Xiao Xiang Shen, and Chan Ho-Kei, the structure of Chopsticks is part collaborative creation, part relay race. The first three authors wrote stories based on two prompts: “an urban legend concerning chopsticks” and “a person with a fish-shaped birthmark on their arm”. The latter two picked up the baton where the ones before them left off, writing additional stories to help tie all of the pieces together into a coherent whole.

    Mitsuda Shinzo

    In “Lord Chopsticks”, the first of the three vanguard stories, a Japanese middle school student performs a forbidden ritual by sticking a pair of bamboo chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, thus mimicking a funerary rite. This act summons Lord Chopsticks to grant the student’s wish, but he must pay by becoming prey to a monster that will hunt him through his dreams. The second tale, “The Coral Bones”, is about a young woman who beseeches a Taoist priest with a fish-shaped birthmark on his hand to locate a missing chopstick. Possessed by a spirit known as Immortal Wang, the chopsticks once brought good luck, but decades ago, after one of the pair disappeared, the remaining chopstick has only brought misfortune. “The Cursed Net” is based on a popular urban legend about Bride’s Pool in Hong Kong. According to the legend, if a ritual meal for the dead is placed at the edge of the pool, a ghost bride will appear to take vengeance on behalf of the supplicant. In the story, a young internet star is assisted by the ghost bride in solving the case of her boyfriend’s death during a livestream broadcast. “The Dream of the Crocodile”, links together the first three tales with the story of a father who will stop at nothing to save his son from the curse of Lord Chopsticks. His unflagging determination leads him to the ruins of a flooded school at the bottom of a reservoir, where yet another mystery is revealed. The final story, a sci-fi romance/adventure, completely defies expectations, carrying forward the suspense of the previous four while developing novel linkages between them.

    Xerses

    Looking back it is clear that arriving at the theme of “chopsticks” was the first critical step in the book’s development. The process of selecting the theme was fairly straightforward. We just felt out different ideas, one at a time. To facilitate discussions we created a group on Facebook with Xerses and JeTauZi. Each day we tossed around ideas, looking for areas of commonality between Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. We considered some heavier topics like cram schools or death by overwork, and more general themes, like “the sea”. After turning things over for a while, in a flash of inspiration, JeTauZi came up with “chopsticks”. It struck us as strange at first, but the more we thought about it the more intriguing it sounded. Chopsticks are simple utensils, but each region has its own taboos, myths, and legends around them. It seemed worthwhile to challenge ourselves to create a sense of horror surrounding an ordinary, commonplace object. From chopsticks we free-associated our way to “fish”. Adding the essential element of a person led us to “a person with a fish-shaped birthmark on their arm.”

    JeTauZi

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=124

  • Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    By Books from Taiwan
    Apr 01, 2021

    GPT is set up by The Ministry of Culture to encourage the publication of Taiwanese works in translation overseas, to raise the international visibility of Taiwanese cultural content, and to help Taiwan's publishing industry expand into non-Chinese international markets.

    Applicant Eligibility: Foreign publishing houses (legal persons) legally registered in accordance with the laws and regulations of their respective countries.

    Conditions:

    1. The so-called Taiwanese works must meet the following requirements:

    A. Use traditional characters
    B. Written by a natural person holding an R.O.C. identity card
    C. Has been assigned an ISBN in Taiwan

    i.e., the author is a native of Taiwan, and the first 6 digits of the book's ISBN are 978-957-XXX-XXX-X or 978-986-XXX-XXX-X.

    2. Applications must include documents certifying that the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works consents to its translation and foreign publication (no restriction on its format).

    3. A translation sample of the Taiwanese work is required (no restriction on its format and length).

    Grant Items:

    1. The maximum grant available for each project is NT$600,000, which covers:

    A. Licensing fees (going to the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works)
    B. Translation fees
    C. Marketing and promotion fees (limited to economy class air tickets for the R.O.C. writer to participate in overseas promotional activities related to the project)
    D. Book production-oriented fees
    E. Tax (20% of the total award amount)
    F. Remittance-related handling fees

    2. Priority consideration is given to books that have received the Golden Tripod Award, the Golden Comic Award, or the Taiwan Literature Award.

    Application Period: Twice every year. The MOC reserves the right to change the application periods, and will announce said changes separately.

    Announcement of successful applications: Winners will be announced within three months of the end of the application period.

    Application Method: Please visit the Ministry’s official website (https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/), and use the online application system.

    For full details of the GPT, please visit https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=oRWyc5VpG+PNII1HENWzEl8qiFfwAwJw7oJCOHz4L408lIe/efs7z+WTtc3mBJBkYvZhpy/Mg9Q

    Or contact: books@moc.gov.tw