Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Historical Novel of Ming China

Publishing Perspectives presented an interesting article about the complexity of translating Chinese books into English, together with the cultural nuances that were lost on, or almost impossible to convey to English readers.

With the rise of China as the world's second largest economy and the growing exposure to Chinese film and Chinese-related media, there has also been an increasing interest in Chinese books.

The world is watching this Red Dragon unfurl; some with sinister apprehension, others with misinformed prejudice and still there are some, these ever avid sinophiles and sinologists, who embrace whatever they can learn about China's fascinating growth, its culture, its history and its people, and who march in the footsteps of pioneers like Marco Polo, Matteo Ricci, Sommerset Maugham and even our own Kevin Rudd.

Unfortunately for the non-Chinese speaking world where literary content is produced about China it has, according to the aforementioned article, often fallen into two camps. I quote from Publishing Perspectives:

“The two hoary old themes are the Cultural Revolution, and ‘sexy China.’  For a while it seemed like everything fell into those two camps, and then all at once publishers got tired of them.

Coincidentally (or perhaps since I flatter myself to be visionary) I voiced my contempt for the overdone Cultural Revolution and communist themes about six years ago when I began researching my historical novel, The Ming Storytellers. They say you should write what you want to read. I did just that.

What I sought to do then was write a book about China that combined all the genre elements I had personally loved in Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits. At the non-narrative level, this novel, if I ever got around to finishing it, would speak of a different China, one that reflected its broad history, its global role several centuries ago, its complex multi-ethnic population and more importantly, a psyche predating the Colonial and Communist eras. Because my narrative was dark and contained many Gothic elements, I created the Ming Gothic genre.

Not surprisingly, I have been told by agents and publishers alike that my novel would be 'difficult to place'.
Hence the risk involved in endorsing this, a first time author's work.

Yet I stand fast by The Ming Storytellers and feel greatly satisfied with its to-date unique approach to writing about China. I am planning to translate it in French so that the many French sinophiles I know are out there can also enjoy it.

In the meantime, at least an English version of The Ming Storytellers will be released in August this year.

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