Monday, 2 August 2021

Raelee Chapman chats with Audrey Chin, author of The Ash House.


 

Background: 
At the 2014 Singapore Writers Festival, I met Singaporean author Audrey Chin by the coffee cart. This super-friendly petite lady with short spiky hair was raving about the muffins. We got talking and introduced ourselves. I was covering some festival events for this blog. It was awkward and embarrassing to admit I hadn't heard of Audrey or known that her novel 'As the Heart Bones Break' was nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize. Fast forward seven years, Audrey and I are good friends and co-run a book club together that focuses on reading Asian literature. I am thrilled to invite her back to Asian Books Blog to discuss her new Asian gothic novel 'The Ash House'. 

Friday, 30 July 2021

Poems from a pandemic: Starting notes on a new (sub)genre?

 

My trusty webcam: indispensable for Zoom poetry workshops!

Earlier this year, I invited four poets and teachers – Inez Tan and Ann Ang, and Jennifer Wong and Esther Vincent Xueming – to each tell us about an Asian poem they love teaching. As is so often the case with such conversations, I was led to reflect too on some of the poems I’ve enjoyed discussing with students, in recent workshops for younger poets, migrant writers, or communities like ‘Writing the City’, curated by Jon Gresham. In particular, I’ve been thinking about poems that speak to what has surely been the biggest elephant in the (class)room for the past many months: COVID-19.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling, guest post from Kristine Ohkubo


Los Angeles-based indie-author Kristine Ohkubo uses her work to explore topics related to Japan and Japanese culture. While growing up in Chicago, she developed a deep love and appreciation for Japanese culture, people, and history. Her extensive travels in Japan have enabled her to gain insight into this fascinating country, which she shares through her books.

Kristine’s first book, a travel guide, was published in 2016. She has subsequently published four other books. Her new book, Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling  introduces readers to rakugo, Japan’s 400-year-old art of storytelling. It draws on biographical information, anecdotes, interviews, and rakugo scripts to explain why this traditional art form has endured for centuries. 

Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling was written in collaboration with Tokyo-based English rakugo storyteller, Kanariya Eiraku. Eiraku, who began performing in 2007, is a former member of Tatekawa-ryu, the rakugo school founded by the late great rakugo master, Tatekawa Danshi. Eiraku has translated and performed over sixty classical and contemporary rakugo stories. Since 2007, he has performed in front of enthusiastic audiences in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. The founder of both the Canary English Rakugo Company and the English Rakugo Association, Eiraku teaches English rakugo in Tokyo to a wide range of students. He also offers online English rakugo classes here.

So, over to Kristine...

Sunday, 18 July 2021

On Naming Malaysian Chinese Characters guest post by Elizabeth Wong


Elizabeth Wong is Malaysian and grew up in Kuala Lumpur. She currently works as a writer, author and geologist in London. Liz is interested in stories of Malaysia and also of this large world we live in — deserts, seas, rocks. She has degrees in Geology and English from Yale University and Imperial College London. Her debut novel, We Could Not See The Stars, has just been published by John Murray. 

Han’s uneventful life in a sleepy fishing village is disturbed when a strange man arrives, asking questions about his mother. Han doesn’t trust Mr Ng, but his cousin Chong Meng is impressed with the stories of his travels and tales of a golden tower. Together they steal Han's only memento of his mother, before disappearing. On a faraway island, across the great Peninsula and across the seas, the forest of Suriyang is cursed. Wander in and you will return without your memories. Professor Toh has been researching the forest of Suriyang for years. He believes that the forest hides something that does not wish to be discovered. An ancient civilization. A mysterious golden tower. Chong Meng is tangled up in the professor’s plans to discover the truth about Suriyang. Han travels the breadth of the Peninsula to find his cousin before it is too late. How much will Han sacrifice to discover who he really is? 

Here, Liz discusses the complexities of naming Malaysian Chinese characters.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Down the rabbit hole – Nicky Harman takes a look at Bristol Translates Online Summer School


I have taught many summer schools in translation, and I have run translation workshops online. But I have never, until last week, taught an entire summer school online. It was of course, Covid which dictated it. Last year’s school was cancelled but this year, it happened, all credit to some brilliant and determined organizers.

The students certainly had faith that it was going to work. There were groups for eleven languages, and several had so many applicants that they divided into two, or even three, groups. There were twenty-four people translating from Chinese into English, so we had two groups.

I am a firm believer that literary translation is a skill you learn by working on it. And did we work! There was a buzz of collective creativity from beginning to end. We discussed the minutiae of language in painstaking detail, from the meaning of the individual words we were translating, to the overall style and how to recreate it, to the ethics of translation and the translator’s responsibility both to the author and to the reader.

We missed the socializing, the face-to-face meetings, during and after workshop sessions. But there was an upside to running the course online: our participants translating from Chinese came from all over the world and several different time zones, from the Americas, to the UK and various European countries, and China and Hong Kong. It is likely that not all of them would have been able to attend had the summer school been run in the traditional way, in Bristol.

One of the joys of translation workshops is that the tutor learns too. We worked, amongst other pieces, on an excerpt from Happy Dreams, where a migrant worker hangs onto his green builder’s safety helmet despite the ribald jokes about his wife cuckolding him (戴绿帽子, putting the green hat on him) in his absence, and one student pointed to the man’s grinding poverty – he had no other possessions to hang onto, something I had not thought of. And there were many other illuminating insights. As one would expect from a diverse and highly-motivated group, some of whom, with great determination, not to say heroism, were getting up at the crack of dawn or staying up until the small hours, to attend it.

Anyway, after three days of intensive hard work, the last session of the last day is traditionally a time to do something a little light-hearted. So I picked a short piece in Chinese translated from a classic English novel, made a very feeble attempt to disguise what the original book was, and asked them to translate it back into English. It was Alice in Wonderland,


and in case you have not read it recently (and there’s an exhibition on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which should encourage anyone to go back to the book), it is full of the most wonderfully liberating and mind-bending language. Not an easy task to translate into any language, especially the nonsense rhymes.

The Chinese version I asked them to back-translate from is itself a classic. It is the work of Zhao Yuanren (also known as Yuen Ren Chao, 1892-1982) a Chinese-American linguist, scholar, poet and composer.

As Minjie Chen writes in her Earliest Chinese Editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Princeton, “In the preface he wrote for the first Chinese edition of Alice, Chao acknowledged the challenge of translating the book. As he rightly observed, Alice was neither new nor obscure by the time he decided to give it a try–the book had been out for more than fifty years and entertained multiple generations of children in English-speaking countries. The reason why no Chinese version existed, he figured, was the formidable challenge posed by word play and nonsense in Carroll’s writing (Chao 10). In fact, the only “Chinese version” that Chao was aware of was done, albeit verbally, by Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston (1874-1938), tutor to Puyi (溥仪), the last Emperor of China. The Scot had told the story of Alice in Chinese to the lonely teenage boy in the Forbidden City. Chao decided that his translation project with Alice, carried out in the midst of Chinese language reform movement, would be an opportune experimentation with written vernacular Chinese ….. In Chao’s trailblazing Chinese translation, we witness how Alice encompasses both general challenges and unique Carrollian tests for a foreign language and how the translator meets them head-on through a creative and imaginative employment of the Chinese language.”

So… not a task for the faint-hearted then. But back to my students. They worked on a  nonsense rhyme from the jury scene in chapter 12 of Alice in Wonderland. We played around with updating the White Rabbit, giving him a mobile phone instead of a pocket watch, but I present here, with their permission, a snippet from the end of this beguiling poem. The White Rabbit is reading….

她还没有发疯前,

你们总是讨人嫌,

碍着他同她同它,

弄得我们没奈何。
  
 
她同他们顶要好,

别给她们知道了。

你我本是知己人,

守这秘密不让跑。

In pinyin, that reads,

Tā hái méiyǒu fāfēng qián,/nǐmen zǒng shì tǎo rén xián,/àizhe tā tóng tā tóng tā,/nòng dé wǒmen mònàihé./Tā tóng tāmen dǐng yàohǎo,/bié gěi tāmen zhīdàoliao./Nǐ wǒ běn shì zhījǐ rén,/shǒu zhè mìmì bù ràng pǎo.

I did not indicate any kind of rhyming scheme to the students. I gave them no guidance at all. They just had to do their best with the Chinese verses in front of them. This is how they translated it back into English,

Back before she went insane
You were always such a pain
To him, to her, to everyone
Pray tell, what could we have done?

She and the guys get on so well,
As for the ladies, hush, don't tell!
Good friends we'll be for all our days,
If this secret between us stays.


After they had finished, I showed them the English. Carroll wrote,

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, ourselves, and it.
 
Don't let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.'

 Lewis Carroll and Zhao Yuanren would have been proud of the Bristol Translates students. I was.



 

 

Saturday, 10 July 2021

The Arches of Gerrard Street by Grace Chia


Singaporean Grace Chia is the author of three poetry collections, including Cordelia and Mother of All Questions, a novel, The Wanderlusters, and a short story collection, Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food. Her work has been widely anthologised internationally, from Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong to the US. It has been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and Serbo-Croat. The Arches of Gerrard Street is her second novel.

Spanning the UK, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, The Arches of Gerrard Street is a coming-of-age love story with a touch of whodunnit.The shooting of Molly’s childhood friend in London’s Chinatown has led her from Batu Pahat in Malaysia to the British capital to find answers. Who murdered him? And why? She soon becomes embroiled in a web of deceit spun in an immigrant enclave shrouded in secrecy as her past catches up on her. The Arches of Gerrard Street is a coming-of-age novel about a young girl from a small town thrust into a big city finding her way back to herself.

So, over to Grace…

Monday, 5 July 2021

The China Mission by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan - Chinese History at a Crossroads

The question of “Who Lost China to the Communists?” became a political flashpoint in American politics. It gave rise to the McCarthy Era and in some aspects, it still lingers in Western discourse to this day. How and why China descended into full-scale civil war is what The China Mission by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan sets out to answer.