Sunday, February 24, 2013

Foreign Literature in China: Now and Then

In LARB:  In the Wake of Finnegan: A Q & A with Xujun Eberlein
This week’s Q & A is with the China-born and now Boston-based Xujun Eberlein, a short story writer, blogger, essayist, and contributor to LARB.

I contacted Xujun in part simply because I was curious to learn her reaction to two recent literary-minded and China-focused New York Times pieces. One focused on the surprisingly brisk sales in China of a book by James Joyce, while the other was a commentary by NPR Beijing bureau chief Louisa Lim on trends in censorship and the popularity of Chinese “officialdom novels.” Both brought Xujun to mind, since she has often reflected on the flow of books and ideas between China and the West and she has written an essay on the “officialdom novel” genre.

She was good enough to break up her Lunar New Year trip back to Chongqing to speak with me.

Jeff Wasserstrom: Do you have any thoughts on why Finnegans Wake might be selling so well in China?

Xujun Eberlein: I was curious about this myself. I’m in Chongqing for Chinese New Year and I went to the Xinhua Bookstore downtown on Saturday (February 9) to have a look at the book. A young staff member led me to the desk where the Chinese translation of Finnegans Wake (the yellow cover at the center of the above photo) was on display with other new and noteworthy books. As you may see from the photo, next to Finnegans Wake is the translation of polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis, which has a supplementary band to note the author is a Nobel Laureate. The red cover on the right is a Chinese popular novel titled Love SMSs. I asked the young man how Finnegans Wake was selling there and he said “Not bad.” He noted that its sales were similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. When asked what kind of readers were buying it, he said “mostly young people.”

Read more.

Friday, February 22, 2013

"Skylark": a Translated Story

Cover Image(Note:  This is a short story I translated for Pathlight issue No. 1, 2012, posted here with permission. I had not heard about author Jin Renshun before I got the assignment. Her writing is both beautiful and subtle, and I truly enjoyed translating the piece. I tried to be faithful to her original style and hope I've succeeded somewhat. – Xujun)

Jin Renshun:   Born in 1970 of Korean extraction, and now living in Changchun, Jin Renshun has published the novel Spring Fragrance, the short story collections Cold Front of Love, Moonlight Oh Moonlight, One Another, and The Glass Café, and the essay collections Like a Dream in Broad Daylight and Poisonous Beauties. Her work has been translated into Japanese, English. German and Korean. In 2010 she attended the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.


Each day at dusk, from six to eight, the third table by the window was reserved for Kang Joon-Hyuk. Occasionally he brought friends – perhaps employees – with him, but mostly he came alone, magazine in hand, to read a few pages before the dishes were served. He and Chun Feng spoke every day, but nothing beyond her asking what he’d like and his ordering of dishes, followed by a few pleasantries of the “Thanks,” “You are welcome” sort.

One day Chun Feng forgot to put the “Reserved” sign on the table. By the time she realized her mistake, the table was occupied by two middle-aged women who chatted nonstop from the second they walked in. They ignored Chun Feng’s apologies and requests.

“This is where we’re sitting,” they said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

While another waitress handled their order, Chun Feng went outside to wait for Kang Joon-Hyuk.

“I’m really sorry,” she bowed to him, tears spilling forth. “It’s all my fault.”

“Did I cause you any trouble?” he said. “You stood in the wind for so long, for such a little thing! It’s me who should apologize.”

(Read the complete story here)