Showing posts with label Nicky Harman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicky Harman. Show all posts

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

A round-up of new fiction for the young in age, and the young at heart

 

Nicky Harman reviews three books for young readers translated from Chinese

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I have to confess that I am an absolute sucker for young adult novels. Given half a chance, I devour them. So I was excited to be given the opportunity to read and review the latest Cao Wenxuan novel, and decided to add two of my own by different authors.

Dragonfly Eyes




 

Cao Wenxuan is easily the most-translated Chinese writer for young readers, and he and Helen Wang, his translator, have won major awards. (Cao Wenxuan, the Hans Christian Andersen Award 2016; Helen Wang, the Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation 2017 for her translation of Bronze and Sunflower.)

 With Dragonfly Eyes, Cao and Wang have given us a substantial read (384 pages in paperback), pitched at 12+ years. This is a family saga spanning fifty years and three generations, which takes the reader from 1930s France where Ah-Mei's grandparents, Nainai and Yeye, met and fell in love, to poverty-stricken post-war Shanghai and the turbulent decades that followed in China. Ah-Mei and her French grandmother, Nainai, share a rare bond – Ah-Mei is the only granddaughter, and takes after her Nainai in looks too. Times are hard in Shanghai – money and food is in short supply ­– but she has loving parents, cousins, uncles and aunties, as well as Nainai and Yeye, and the family is resilient.

Cao Wenxuan has a lush, lyrical style which is beautifully translated by Helen Wang (anyone who has read Bronze and Sunflower will know what I mean) and I was lulled by the sweetness of the beginning into thinking that it was really intended for younger readers. But with the 1960s, life gets darker and more complex for Ah-Mei: society disintegrates around the family, Nainai is attacked simply for being foreign, and the story ends with what might be a natural death or might be suicide. Enthralling.

Dragonfly Eyes by Cao Wenxuan, translated by Helen Wang (Walker Books, January 2021)

 White Horse 


I was delighted when my translation of White Horse, a novella by Chinese writer Yan Ge, made it onto the short-list of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2020. It was in serious company: Tove Jansson and Natalia Ginzburg were also on the short-list, chosen from 132 entries in 34 languages, but White Horse is a book that can hold its own. As the judges said, ‘[This novella] portrays adolescence as heartachingly-recognizable the world over. Translated with charm and wit by the outstanding Nicky Harman.’

White Horse is about Yun Yun, a young girl growing up in a small West China town. Her mother has died in mysterious circumstances, but she lives happily enough with her father, aunt and uncle and older cousin Qing. Until her once-secure world falls apart, that is. Her cousin, who is a couple of years older than her, gets a boyfriend and clashes with her repressive parents, and Yun Yun is inevitably affected by the ensuing rows. Gradually, terrible family secrets are revealed, and Yun Yun is left isolated and alone as the adults, and her cousin, struggle to live with them.  It takes a while before we learn about Yun Yun’s mother (and I’m not going to spoil the plot here) but in the meantime, Yun Yun finds relief from the stresses and strains of growing up in this toxic atmosphere: she starts seeing a white horse. Is the white horse a friend? Is it a sign of something much more sinister? It’s certainly a fantasy, liable to pop up when Yun Yun is feeling at her most vulnerable and abandoned. 

This story is funny as well as spooky. It’s pitched as a teen novel, but don’t let that put you off if you’re a teen-plus. It’s creepy, and it gets under your skin, and it’s worth reading slowly, because some of the clues that the author drops are very subtle. Give them time to sink in.

White Horse by Yan Ge, translated by Nicky Harman (Hope Road, 2019)

 I Want to be Good


 

Huang Beijia is another writer who is famous for her books for young readers. I’ve translated two of her novels, I Want to be Good, and Flight of the Bumblebee (forthcoming) and I’m struck by the differences. Flight of the Bumblebee is a wartime novel, while I Want to be Good is contemporary and deals with that bugbear of Chinese children and their parents – school exams. You think that doesn’t sound like a racy read? Think again. It’s a mark of Huang’s skill as a writer that she creates two great characters, Ling and her put-upon mother, who, when they’re not struggling with her maths marks, live life to the full. Ling is an average sort of kid: cheerful, kind, brave when she needs to be, good at writing stories, but hopeless at maths. Her mother is an unexpected heroine: she had ambitions of her own as a young woman, but had to ditch them when her husband gets a demanding job. She tries so hard to support her daughter but she’s anything but a Tiger Mum.

 Ling and her friends get ready for their middle school entrance exam in their last year at elementary school, and the pressure piles on.  We share Ling’s adventures and misadventures, enjoy her small triumphs, and despair with her over her test marks. Then, just before the exams, something really special happens to Ling, something she is determined to keep a close secret. As the school year comes to an end, Ling has learnt a lot about life, and herself, and is ready to face the next stage of growing up.

I Want to be Good by Huang Beijia, translated by Nicky Harman (GDB Books, Delhi, India. https://www.amazon.in/dp/9384401528/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_IZd8FbAK90NA5. A UK edition is also forthcoming in January 2021.) Ages: 10+

 For more information on translated Chinese fiction for young readers, see Chinese books for young readers.

 

 

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

A translated novel: a team effort

 Nicky Harman reads Zhang Ling’s latest historical novel, A Single Swallow (Amazon Crossing, 2020.)

One of the best-written novels I’ve ever translated is Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues, about a family from Guangdong, China, torn apart when the men emigrate to work in Canada and their women wait long, long years to join them. So I was all agog to read Ling’s latest novel, A Single Swallow, translated by Shelly Bryant. I found it gripping. Better still, I got to interview all the main players, author, translator and editor.

The story: Three men – two American and one Chinese – reminisce about life in the rural village they were all stationed in during WW2. …and about Ah Yan, (‘Swallow’ in Chinese) who means different things to each of the men, although they each have strong and complicated feelings for her. This novel is set during a horrific time in China, but the human spirit triumphs.