As China’s fiction “exports” pick up, it will be interesting to watch which novels and themes win an Exit Permit to foreign lands, and how they are received there.
Take Wang Gang’s 《英格力士》, for instance. This semi-autobiographical novel set in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution was snapped up by Penguin, and rendered in English by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan as . . . English. See Growing up Han in Fictional Xinjiang for a combined book review and interview with the translators. The novel has since also appeared in French (English) and Spanish (El profesor de inglés) .
I assume the purchase and publication of Wang Gang’s work was a market-driven decision by Penguin. But late last year, his novel was launched in Turkish at the Istanbul Book Fair. The driver in that instance may have been somewhat more political. It was one of just two Chinese novels that were translated into Turkish and published in time for the fair thanks to a joint project subsidized by Turkey and China. The other was a relatively unknown work by Tie Ning (How long is forever?), who happens to be favorably placed—she’s top honcho at the state-run China Writers Association.
Given that only a handful of contemporary Chinese novels have appeared in Turkish (see table), I can’t help but ponder the symbolism of choosing a Xinjiang-born Han author’s novel as an introduction to 21st-century Chinese literature (Xinjiang Connections). The novel is set in Xinjiang, the home of some ten million Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, traditionally Muslim people who have ancient ties with the Turkish. But the novel itself focuses almost exclusively on the Han community there; there are no Uyghur male characters in it.
Irony of ironies, Wang Gang’s novel was translated from the English-language English, not his Chinese original. The first casualty may have been the book’s title in Turkish that couldn’t be much more mundane: Ingilizce, the proper Turkish term for the English language. The original novel was entitled 英格力士, however, which is closer to a phonetic transcription of the word as you would find it in a dictionary, e.g., “ing-glish”, a more notable title that positions the word as alien to the speaker. As you can see from the Spanish and French titles above, Ingilizce is a more orthodox translation from the, uh, English.
At any rate, keen to see how a novel about the Cultural Revolution would be rendered in Turkish, I commissioned an English-to-Turkish literary translator here in Istanbul to review the Turkish book as well as comment on how it compares with the English rendition. The review—in English—follows below. For the Turkish review, see Çin Edebiyatından Kültür Devrimine Ergen Gözüyle Bakış: Wang Gang’ın İngilizce Romanı.
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Wang Gang’s Ingilizce:
Intriguing Look at the Cultural Revolution
for Turkish Readers
Chinese original: Wang Gang (英格力士、王刚著)
Turkish translator: Nil Demir
Book reviewer: Ayşe Ünal Ersönmez
Consumers of fiction in the West may be familiar with works set in China’s Cultural Revolution, but for the Turkish reader Wang Gang’s English—or Ingilizce in the Turkish rendition—this novel opens the door on a bizarre new world where an experiment in social engineering has gone badly wrong. Read the rest of this entry »