China

Chinese translation of James Joyce becomes best-seller

  • 31 January 2013
  • From the section China
A billboard advertising the translation of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake in Beijing
The new translation has been heavily promoted in Shanghai and Beijing

A Chinese version of James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake, which took eight years to translate, has become a surprising hit in the country.

Publishers said that a modest initial run of 8,000 copies of the book sold out a little over a month after going on sale.

The book was promoted on a series of billboards across Shanghai and Beijing, reportedly a first for China.

A second edition is being printed to meet the demand.

Translator Dai Congrong, who grappled with the text for eight years to produce the Chinese version, told a literary forum that she had tried to keep her version as complex as the original.

"I would not be faithful to the original intent of the novel if my translation made it easy to comprehend," she said, according to the Associated Press.

The Shanghai News and Publishing Bureau said the novel's sales in Shanghai last week were second only to a new biography of Deng Xiaoping in the category of "good books," a term reserved for more serious reads.

During the 1980s and 1990s the demand for translations of foreign-language novels exploded though it has since cooled.

Joyce's Ulysses was warmly received when it was first translated in the mid-1990s.

But some critics say the latest translation, of a work that has divided critics with its stream of consciousness style and unusual language, has pandered to a superficial demand among some Chinese for high-brow imports.

"Pushed by a current of unprecedented vanity," is how Shanghai native and New York-based writer Li Jie described the "Finnegans Wake" phenomenon in a post on his microblog, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Jiang Xiaoyuan, a professor at Shanghai's Jiaotong University, as saying: "Joyce must have been mentally ill to create such a novel."

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