Eric Abrahamsen

Beijing, China

contact

Eric has lived in Beijing since late 2001, when he studied Chinese at the Central University for Nationalities. He began struggling through Wang Xiaobo at an early date, and kept at it through the intervening years. He is the recipient of a PEN translation grant for Wang Xiaobo's My Spiritual Homeland and a NEA grant for Xu Zechen's Running Through Zhongguancun, later published as Running Through Beijing.

Eric divides his time between editorial work for Pathlight magazine, consulting for the Hachette-Phoenix publishing company, and various and sundry activities related to promoting Chinese literature abroad.

 

Translations

Novels

 

Best Translated Book Award: Detailed Links

As part of the Best Translated Book Award project, recently announced on the Three Percent site, they're publishing short essays on the various books and the reasons for their nomination. There are four Chinese-language books on the longlist, and I'll update this post with links to the essays as they're posted. As of April 11, we've got:

  1. Nomination essay by judge Monica Carter on why Qiu Miaojin's Last Words from Montmartre, translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich, should win.
  2. Nomination essay by ??? on why Hsia Yü's poetry collection Salsa, translated by Steve Bradbury should win.
  3. Nomination essay by ??? on why Dorothy Tse's Snow and Shadow, translated by Nicky Harman, should win.
  4. Nomination essay by ??? on why Can Xue's The Last Lover, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen should win.

By Eric Abrahamsen, April 11 '15, 8:51a.m.

leave a comment, viewed 20 times

Sun Yisheng and Pathlight at the Bookworm Literary Festival

Those of you who are in Beijing: come to the iQiyi cafe next Monday night (March 23rd) at 8pm, for an event with Sun Yisheng, Nicky Harman, Dave Haysom and myself, talking a bit about Pathlight magazine, but mostly about Sun Yisheng's story 《猴者》, and Nicky's translation of it: "Apery". Expect the usual keen textual autopsy, mixed with general literary commentary and snarky asides.

The event is part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, and is 60 RMB. It's taking place at iQiyi, the cafe sort of kitty-corner to the Bookworm that sticks up all by itself, you know the one.

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 19 '15, 10:27a.m.

leave a comment, viewed 12 times

Paper Republic Shortlisted for LBF International Literary Translation Initiative Award

Each year the London Book Fair hands out awards in a number of categories as part of its International Excellence Awards program. We're pleased to announce that Paper Republic has made the shortlist for this year's International Literary Translation Initiative Award. This is a wonderful bit of recognition, and many thanks to all who made it happen.

The short list is short: besides us it's Asymptote and the Dutch Foundation for Literature, so we're in excellent company.

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 18 '15, 10:03p.m.

1 comment, viewed 25 times

Wolf Totem: The Movie They Forgot to Make

So I saw Wolf Totem last night, and I think stayed awake for enough of it to be able to write a short review.

A bit ago Bruce posted some thoughts and questions about the film, focusing as he does on the ethnic minority angle, and asking about its depiction of Mongolia and Mongolians.

Having seen the film, I can say with some confidence: it’s not really about Mongolia at all.

By which I mean, this is a storyline that has been cooked down to its essentials until it looks more like a film-school exercise in story-boarding than it does a real story. It ended up being a prototype for any and all films that follow the “civilized man visits wise natives and learns their wisdom but doesn’t get the girl” arc. Sure it’s set in Mongolia, and sure its got wolves, but all the plot particulars are so rudimentary they feel like placeholders that the filmmakers later forgot to replace with actual content. The Mongolians could just be blank blobs tagged INSERT NOBLE SAVAGES HERE. Chen Zhen might have a sign on his chest reading INSERT NAIVE IDEALIST HERE.

Mongolian is spoken, in exactly the same quantities as Lakota was spoken in Dances With Wolves, or Na’vi in Avatar. In the same quantities, and to the same purpose. Those movies – and a barrel more like them – fleshed out the civilization-meets-savagery theme into something that (even if you objected to it) had specificity, and the emotional weight that comes with that. Wolf Totem remains an insubstantial Platonic ideal.

Even the wolf scenes, sad to say. I did enjoy the night storm scene with the wolf-pack chasing the horses. The shot of the horses the next morning was the film’s most arresting visual image. And yet… the “thrilling” wolf scenes were filmed in an entirely generic way. The cinematography and the score were more appropriate to Avatar’s scenes of dragon-riding or attack helicopters than wild animals. Wolves have their own pace, their own tension, their own menace, and the camera failed to find that.

Try reading this Q&A with Jiang Rong and you’ll see what I’m talking about: his comments on the differences between the film and his book immediately restore a sense of depth and reality to the story. And no wonder:

  1. Discussion of ethnic conflict removed.
  2. Doomed cross-cultural romance added.
  3. Death of wolf-cub removed.

This last is probably most revealing. Jiang Rong’s first explanation is “Westerners would not be able to bear this. They would think this was too cruel, and the animal rights people might protest.” Passing over that non-sequitur, we come to what feels like the real reason:

…the parts of the film that include the cub are pretty superficial. People were very moved by the wolf cub in the book because I wrote about it in great detail. So when the wolf cub dies in the book, many readers cried. Even I cried while I was writing it. The wolf cub’s personality is very strong in the book up until its death, so it is a very complete chain of events.

But since the cub wasn’t very prominent in the early parts of the film, to have this shocking thing happen to it wouldn’t be very logical.

In essence: “We took out the most emotionally affecting part of the film, because the film doesn’t really have any emotion in it.”

I left the theater with the weird feeling that I hadn’t seen a film at all, merely a description of one.

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 7 '15, 11:05p.m.

2 comments, viewed 134 times

Book Expo America, 2015

Book Expo America, the largest US book fair, is schedule for late May 2015, and a certain ancient civilization is going to be the Guest of Honor. That means BEA is going to get the Frankfurt-2009/London-2012 treatment, with a small army of Chinese writers and publishers and "other" descending on New York for a few weeks.

Right about now is when the list of lucky writers is being compiled, and we'll have some small say in the compilation. They'll take into account which writers have recently published books in English (thanks again to Nicky Harman and Helen Wang for their timely compilation. Now I'm going to the peanut gallery with two additional questions:

  1. Who among you (translators or publishers) have English-language translations coming out next year, ideally (but not necessarily) in the US, and ideally (but not necessarily) in the first half of the year?
  2. Publications aside, who do you think should go? Who would make an interesting addition to the delegation?

Please comment here, or email me directly. Thanks!

By Eric Abrahamsen, November 18 '14, 9:40p.m.

4 comments, viewed 88 times

Three Body I is Number One in Chinese Literature on Amazon

Check out the Amazon.com page for the hardback edition of volume one of Liu Cixin's epic sci-fi trilogy, The Three Body Problem. Volume one, translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books, has only been out for a few days, and as of today is ranked #683 among all books on Amazon, and #1 among Chinese literature. Holy crap.

Congratulations to Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, and in advance to Joel Martinsen, the translator of the forthcoming second volume.

And to the rest of you Chinese authors… Reach for the stars.

By Eric Abrahamsen, November 14 '14, 3:27a.m.

1 comment, viewed 109 times

Pathlight News

So it’s been a while since we made any sort of public announcements about Pathlight magazine, though in fact production has continued apace. In fact, we’ve got two rather large bits of news.

  1. Two issues have gone online more or less at once! How’s that for efficiency. The first is themed around minority/ethnic writers, and features writing by and about China’s ethnic groups. The theme of the second is gender – we started out thinking of it as a women’s issue, but it got a little bit bigger than that. Take a look, and tell us what you think!

    Both issues are available as digital downloads on both Amazon and iTunes – we’re experimenting with a lower price, so if you were previously balking at $6.99, see how $3.99 strikes you.

  2. The other bit of news is that we’ve had a changing of the guard: after two years and nine issues of Pathlight, Alice Xin Liu is stepping down as managing editor, to be replaced by Dave Haysom, of Spitting Dog fame, and Karmia Olutade, a superlative translator of poetry, and now poetry editor. Thanks and best wishes to Alice, and welcome to the new crew! As usual, you can reach us with suggestions or submissions at info@paper-republic.org.

Look for the next issue, themed around the re-writing of myth and history, early next month.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 6 '14, 3:15a.m.

3 comments, viewed 36 times

Chinese Arts and Letters: Call for Submissons

Chinese Arts and Letters, a literary and academic journal, solicits English-language contributions for issue No. 3. Texts not exceeding 10,000 words will be considered, consisting of translations of contemporary Chinese-language literature in any genre, essays on the Chinese arts and letters of any era, and creative writing in any genre about China. Translated texts or inquiries for translations must also submit the original Chinese text, and all translations will be reviewed for accuracy and style. Payment for contributions is 0.80 RMB per word (contributions) or per Chinese character (translation), before tax. Texts with a focus on Jiangsu may be given special consideration.

Please address inquiries or submissions to the editors at chineseartsletters@gmail.com or chineseartsletters@163.com The deadline for inquiries for issue No. 3 is December 31, 2014; the deadline for submissions is January 31, 2015.

By Eric Abrahamsen, September 15 '14, 2:28a.m.

leave a comment, viewed 98 times

If I Were a Political Cartoonist

If I were a political cartoonist, of the WWII-era ilk where they label everything in the cartoon so the point gets across better, I would draw a cartoon to illustrate China’s “Going Out,” the policy which is meant to bring Chinese culture to the rest of the world, and it would look something like this:

A patch of land representing China; in the center stands The Leader (it says that on his chest). He gazes off into the distance, one hand pointing outwards in the best 指点江山 style, and the words “Going Out Policy” are written on that sleeve. The other hand is loading sumptuous food onto crescent tables to either side of him. The food could be labeled “Government Budget,” but that should be self-explanatory. Seated around the outside of the tables are a host of people we could label “Government Functionaries,” until I think of something better.

The functionaries are shoveling food into their mouths, their gazes fixed in rapt devotion upon The Leader. They’ve all scootched backwards until their rear ends hang out over the border of China, and they’re saying things to The Leader like: “We have ‘Gone Out,’ and it is wonderful!,” and, “The foreigners are all amazed!”

Meanwhile, a few big-nosed foreigners (in berets and cowboy hats!) are standing around the outside of the border, looking at this line of plumber’s cracks, and asking each other, “What on earth are they trying to tell us?”


If only I could draw…

By Eric Abrahamsen, September 3 '14, 12:18a.m.

1 comment, viewed 50 times

China Writers Association Translation Fund Recipients

That wasn’t so hard after all – the CWA has given us the list of the 25 translation fund recipients for the last round of funding. What we don’t know are the details of translator/publisher (though in many cases you can guess), or how much funding will actually be supplied. But still, it’s an interesting list – see it below, after the jump.

In the meantime, the deadline is nearly up for the next round of funding for both the general CWA program, and its ethnic-minority fiction funding program. The ethnic-minority funding applications will be reviewed next month, and the contemporary fiction applications the month after, so time is short. If you’ve got all the necessary materials on hand (and the publishing contract is already signed), you can first send a digital version of the application to the Writers Association at dreamworker2013@163.com.

More…

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 29 '14, 1:41a.m.

2 comments, viewed 47 times

China Writers Association Translation Fund – Some News

Towards the end of last year, the China Writers Association announced the inception of two new literary translation funds, one for general fiction, and the other specifically for minority fiction. Many applications were submitted, and then we all commenced to wait. And wait, and…

We started to suspect that the whole thing had foundered on some hidden bureaucratic sandbar, but just recently we heard that the program is, in fact, still under way – not only that, the CWA is actually ready to announce its first round of winners. Not announce, exactly: the winners will be contacted on the down-low. We're trying to convince them that publicizing the full list is in everyone's best interest, but it's not clear if that argument will take.

If you applied for funding, and have been chosen, expect to get that news "soon". The translators among you will know how to translate that "soon" into English. You publishers can probably also figure it out.

If you applied and didn't get it… you may never know! Unless we can talk them into publicizing the list.

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 25 '14, 6:30a.m.

leave a comment, viewed 80 times

CELT Deadline Extension

The deadline for the CELT translation training course has been extended to August 18 (2014), since (for reasons I personally cannot fathom) the number of applicants to date has amounted to something less than a tidal wave.

I want to emphasize what a worthwhile thing this is: personally, the two courses I attended were not only the most helpful things I've done for my development as a translator, they were also instrumental in the solidification of a society of C-E literary translators, a social circle or support group, a mafia even. And needless to say they were a hell of a lot of fun. So do it, already!

See below, and after the jump, for more details:

The Chinese English Literary Translation course will run from 22nd to 27th September 2014 in the Yellow Mountains. The course will offer a mix of literary translation and creative writing workshops, with guest speakers.

More…

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 12 '14, 6:48a.m.

1 comment, viewed 108 times

CELT Rides Again

The notorious – nay, infamous – Chinese-English Literary Translation course is coming around for its third incarnation this coming September (2014). For five days, translators and writers will gather in Huangshan to pick each other's brains, watch each other work, and try to teach each other a little something. Be part of the event that has launched so many illustrious translation careers! Or at least, introduced some fairly interesting people to one another.

This time, the course is being run by the Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press (FLTRP), in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT), and SAPPRFT.

The course will be held this fall, September 22 to 27. The application deadline is August 10: be sure to send your completed application form and a scan of your passport to translation@fltrp.com before then. Attendance free, but you'll have to get yourself there, and also pay for room and board (I had this wrong intially, my apologies!).

The Chinese-to-English writers and workshop leaders are:

  1. Li Juan, 李娟, led by Andrea Lingenfelter
  2. Li Pingyi, 李平易, led by Bonnie McDougall
  3. A Yi, 阿乙, led by Eric Abrahamsen

For more information about the course, you can download the full information sheet.

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 21 '14, 4:30a.m.

7 comments, viewed 160 times