The Translator as Heroine (Xiaolu Guo in NYC)

Xiaolu GuoEveryone knows that literary translators are heroic, so why aren’t there more books written about them? I want to see them portrayed not as weird, Kinbote-y dry-as-dusts, but as bold creative masterminds who bridge languages, cultures, worlds, people. I want to see someone endow a prize for the best work of fiction celebrating translators and the art of translation. If that prize already existed, I would definitely consider nominating Xiaolu Guo, a Chinese writer turned British writer whose first novel (written in Chinese), Village of Stone, was a contender for the Independent Best Foreign Fiction Prize and an International Dublin IMPAC Award. She followed this up with a book written in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary, that made quite a splash when it appeared in 2007 and earned her a spot on the list of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. And now she’s got a new one out: I am China, and its protagonist is – you guessed it – a translator. I need to get my hands on a copy.

Check out the plot summary from Claire Hazelton’s review in The Guardian:

Iona, a London-based translator, pieces together the complex and tragic past of separated Chinese couple Jian (an exiled, rebel punk musician drifting through Europe) and Mu (a slam-poet). The concept of truth, throughout, is unstable; with no definitive means of interpreting certain Chinese characters and their tenses, Iona’s translations often rely on assumption. As Iona traverses through the fragments of diary entries and correspondence, the couple’s story becomes a life-source for her own existence, to the extent that she takes it upon herself to reunite Jian and Mu. Consequently, her interpretations cease to simply be demonstrations of the subjectivity and instability of translation and become, instead, instrumental and crucial to the fate of all three characters.

If you’ve had a chance to read it, please let me know what you think!

And if you’d like to see and hear Xiaolu Guo in person, she’ll be appearing soon on an exciting-sounding program right here in New York: a conversation with the amazing singer/songwriter Nellie McKay in a program entitled “What Can’t Be Sung” moderated by New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones. Given the translation-y slant the conversation is likely to take, the organizers at PEN are offering Translationista readers a 20% discount off the $25 admission, bringing the ticket price to $20. To reserve yours, click here and use the discount code “diy.” You’ll find more information on the event here. The basics are: Tuesday, Sept. 9, Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th St., doors open at 7:30 p.m., program starts at 8:00 p.m.

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