On two recently released novels by Chinese American authors
By Alice Xin Liu, published July 14, 2010, 1:19a.m.
I was really excited when I saw the title Girl in Translation (published by Penguin), but I didn't know it was going to be a book of literal translation.
The author of Girl in Translation is Jean Kwok. The description on *Girl in Translation is as follows: "When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings."
But what becomes nagging after a while is then obvious － the author translates literally:
"The white disease" for leukemia," “small-hearted" for be careful and "release your heart" for don't worry. Asked about this in the Danwei interview, she said that the reason was this: “It took me ten years to write this novel and one of my goals was to develop a technique that would show English-speaking readers what it was like to be a native speaker of Chinese. I wanted to put the reader into the head and heart of a Chinese immigrant. English comes in garbled and incomprehensible, while the beauty of the Chinese language is easily understood.”
I wonder if when Chinese people say 小心, they really think of small hearts, or when they say 放心, they think of release. With no disrespect for the Kwok, these are just general questions that are interesting.
Deanna Fei’s A Thread of Sky (also published by Penguin) raises some interesting questions. She wants to separate herself from Amy Tan, which she says ruined her generation of Asian Americans (and then as writers) because whenever someone called them up, it was with references to Tan and her depiction of Asian American characters.
In her Huffington Post article she writes: “But for my generation of Asian Americans, widespread ardor for Amy Tan dovetailed with the fetishization of Asian women, the denigration of Asian men, essentialist ideas about Asian cultures, the abiding preference for preconceived notions of who we are.”
In her novel, there is the distinct sense and idea of exoticization, especially when she describes the Wall Street heroine Nina who through her own resilience to stereotypes went on to be an over-achiever, at the same time shrugging off male colleagues' sexual assumptions left and right about her Asian ‘hot-babe-ness.’ Is Fei directly addressing the problem of Asian fetishization? Or building on the image in order to revert it or implode it? Whichever way, she builds them around the crux that these women are all high-achieving, who all go off to find their roots in China, with a revolutionary grandmother to boot. It seems to me that whilst the representations of Chinese women are trying to be unconventional, it always arrives back at the same place.