Literature's crème de la crème

By Liao Danlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-15 18:38:01

An artist's rendition of Fu Lei 
Courtesy of the French Embassy in Beijing

An artist's rendition of Fu Lei Courtesy of the French Embassy in Beijing

Veteran translator Liu Fang won one of the top prizes at the Fu Lei Translation and Publication Awards ceremony held December 12 at the French Embassy in Beijing, with few people more surprised at her success than the 81-year-old scribe herself.

Liu said in her acceptance speech that she viewed her job translating French literature into Chinese as "just a hobby."

"I wasn't prepared to give this speech. I'd never even heard of the awards before I was nominated," Liu said. 

Liu took the top prize in the fiction category for her translation of Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel. Shen Jian and Zhu Xiaohan triumphed in the social sciences category for Centuries of Childhood by Philippe Arièsin, while Cao Dongxue won the Seedling Prize for Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. The Seedling Prize, which made its debut this year, is awarded to newcomers to encourage young translators bridging the gap in French and Chinese literature. 

Judging on behalf of readers

Named after Chinese master translator and writer Fu Lei (1908-1966), the first awards ceremony was held in 2009 by the French Embassy. The 2008 Nobel Literature laureate, JMG Le Clézio, presented the inaugural prizes.

The three awards are each worth 8,000 euros ($10,987) in prize money, which is split between publishing houses and translators. Unlike previous years, last week's winners were unaware of their success until just before the award ceremony began. Final votes were still being tallied as guests and media arrived at the event that very night.

Jury members responsible for voting were reduced this year from 12 to eight experts, of whom half were Chinese and the other half were French. Apart from the eight jury members, there were additional guest juries: novelist Yu Hua and literature critic Zhou Guoping, as well as two winners from last year, who cast their ballots in the all-important final round of voting.

Dong Qiang, director of French language department at Peking University and president of the jury, noted that the involvement of Yu and Zhou added a new dimension to the judging process of this year's awards.

"They don't speak French, but they both have read a large number of French novels translated into Chinese. They offered insight as readers with a professional point of view," said Dong, who said Yu had identified a grammar mistake that led him to refer back to the original French sentence. "I knew Yu was right when I had another look of the original. We have all read a lot of translated books, and we know what is of high quality even without reading the book in French. Judgment was not based on word-to-word faithfulness in translation."

Increased communications

French Ambassador to China Sylvie Bermann said during the ceremony that more French books are translated into Chinese than any other language every year, leading to stronger communication between the two countries' literary worlds, an important part of the cultural collaboration.

"The theme of the Paris Book Fair next year will be Chinese literature, especially Shanghai literature," Bermann said.

Dong told the Global Times that China has a deep pool of quality French literary translators, adding that French translators also rank among the world's best at translating contemporary Chinese literature.

"However, the skills of Chinese translators vary. Many translated books are full of errors. French-Chinese translation can only be called 'tall' among a field of dwarves," said Dong, acknowledging that great translators must have years of experience - a feat few Chinese translators can boast.

The success of Canadian author Alice Munro, who won the 2013 Nobel Literature Prize, has also encouraged many Chinese publishing houses to pay more attention to French literature in Canada and other Francophone countries that have historically been neglected by Chinese translators, said Dong.

"Alliance Francaise (an international organization that promotes French worldwide) and the achievements of Munro can bring more interest to different literature. I also hope the Fu Lei Translation and Publication Awards can do the same in the future," said Dong.  

Posted in: Books

blog comments powered by Disqus