On August 2nd, 2014, the Federation of International Translators awarded Xu Yuanchong – a Chinese translator of Eastern and Western classic literature – the “Aurora Borealis” Prize for outstanding literary translation. Last year, Xu translated the works of Wang Wei, Li Bai, Du Fu, and Bai Juyi – all Tang Dynasty poets – from Chinese into English and French.
Poetry is often thought to make for the most difficult translation projects but really it takes a very specialized background and mindset to effectively translate any work of fiction. CSOFT’s very own Valeria Abate – a native of Cava De’ Tirreni, Italy – sat down with us to share her experience and thoughts on literature and novel translations.
Valeria Abate – Translator
I started studying foreign languages in middle school and I fell in love them. I discovered that learning a new language opened doors for travel, let me speak with people in their own language, and allowed me to truly experience different cultures from the inside. More than that, for me I have found each language presents me with new ways of seeing the world. When I translate or speak another language, my way of thinking changes, too.
So, this is what I’ve studied all my life – foreign languages and culture and literature – both Western and Eastern. In high school it was French, German, and English. Afterwards, I began to study Chinese. Of course, I’m at different levels with all of those languages, especially with Chinese; my reading is not quite fluent yet.
When I was studying, I would often read books that had been translated into Italian. I would read a chapter in the original language and then the same chapter in Italian. I could see the translator’s style – little changes that showed how she had read the chapter and the feeling she got from it. Some translators can actually improve the book. That’s what I want to do.
When I translate books, there are times when I feel more like a translator and times when I feel more like a writer. Of course, I never really feel like a writer when re-writing someone else’s work but there are times when I have to let my own style take over. The right word choice is very, very important and, of course, grammar, however it’s also important – if you want to really capture the Truth of the book – that some is left out. So much of the meaning in a book is unwritten.
As Valeria’s musings show so clearly, it takes a talented, creative mind to be a literary translator. With over 60 years of experience and now the “Aurora Borealis” prize to his credit, Xu Yuanchong’s artistic gifts must be formidable. But the translation of literature is about more than art; it’s about international communication. Through works of fiction from other parts of the world, we can catch glimpses of far-flung cultures. We can see how different people think differently but – more importantly – we can see how much we all have in common.
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