On the Wings of Good Translation
On October 19th, The Chinese Pen Association of Canada hosted a book launch party for Bob Sun’s Tears for Camellia at the Great Wall Education in Greater Toronto. Bob Sun, translator Baimei Sun, and reviewer Elizabeth Warrener gave talks on the making of the book.
“First of all, I would like to thank Ms. Baimei Sun, a translator I respect, who spent a year translatingTears for Camellia,” Bob began. “I’d also like to thank Mrs. Elizabeth Warrener who read and polished the whole manuscript.”
According to Bob, the project was conceived during a casual conversation. On a gathering several years ago, Baimei mentioned her intention to retire from the Toronto Public Library after 16 years of service. She was wondering how she should spend her leisure time. Bob said jokingly that she could translate his novel. A month later, Baimei called Bob, saying she’d do it. Bob felt honored because he knew Baimei was an expert translator. She was an associate professor at Shanghai International Studies University before immigrating to Canada, and had translated classics like A Streetcar Named Desire into Chinese.He didn’t think the translation would be completed quickly because the manuscript was over 250,000 Chinese characters in length. To his surprise, Baimei finished in a year and even had one of her friends, a senior librarian, polish the manuscript.
“Not all writers are so lucky. I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to them,” said Bob emotionally.
“I decided to translate Tears for Camellia because I liked the book,” Baimei explained. “I like the complexity of the immigrant characters’ lives, the pure and desolate love story, and the perplexity that the mystery dictates. The plot is breathtaking, with the discovery of a female corpse at Niagara Falls at the beginning and the finding of her cause of her death at the end. The characters are vividly portrayed. Zhang Yuanyuan, the protagonist, is a pretty but naïve woman who dreams of a new life abroad after being deserted by a young man in her native country. She first flees to Tokyo, then to Toronto. Entrapped by life’s difficulties and seduced by vanity, she falls into sex work and drug trafficking. This is a story of depravity and salvation.”
Baimei also spoke about the challenges of translation. “Some critics say that translating is like dancing with shackles, and I think it is very true.” Renowned Chinese translator Yan Fu has argued that three criteria should be used when judging a translation: Is it true to the original? Is it fluent and easy to understand? Is the translation elegant?“The translation must be accurate,” Baimei stressed, “but the translator might reorganize the structure of the sentences to make it more understandable. It can be polished, but not embellished. Last but not least, the translation should be graceful.”
“Bob loves using dialect, proverbs, and slang. I’m from Shanghai, so the Shanghai slang was not a problem for me, but I had to ask him about the Cantonese. He also cites poems by both ancient and modern Chinese poets, and these also posed great challenges.” Toward the end of her speech, she thanked Elizabeth Warrener, a former colleague and good friend who had polished the manuscript. She also thanked her husband, Yunsheng Ma, for his support. She also thanked Yan Li, Ann Atkinson, and Alice Chan among others.
A number of literary professionals attended, including Yan Li, a writer who works in both Chinese and English. Also in attendance were award-winning novelist Chen He and Hong Tianguo, the former president of the Chinese Pen Association of Canada. After the formal speeches, the audience engaged in a lively discussion with the author and translator.
“A good translation is like giving new wings to the original. In my 20-year literary career, the English version of Tears for Camellia is a kind of milestone. I feel like my career could soar from this point on.” Bob Sun said excitedly.“Five years ago, it was just a dream for me to have a novel translated into English. Now that dream has come true, and I dream of seeing the book adapted into a TV series or a movie, or even translated into other languages.”