Book Review: Han Han's "The Problem with Me"


# 1.   

Interesting to see that, at least in this book review, this is right at the top:

Edited and translated by Alice Xin Liu and Joel Martinsen

I visited Amazon and did not even find the names of the translators.

Regardless, it is neat to see that Alice and Joel are identified here not only as translators, but as editors. I am increasingly finding that much of the literary copy I am commissioned to translate from the Chinese, badly needs editing.

For the most part, the contracts I sign don't allow me to do such editing, and I naturally honor those contracts. And in the past, I've even said in print that I prefer this be done by someone else; I want to focus on translating.

But my views are evolving. Editing of fiction, as it is known and practiced in the West, does not seem to be applied in China, and this inevitably means much of what is coming the reader's (and translator's) way is awfully mediocre.

Bruce Humes, September 4, 2016, 12:24a.m.

# 2.   

I assumed that the editing bit was referring more to the selection and curation of the essays.

Dave Haysom, September 4, 2016, 10:40a.m.

# 3.   

Amazon is usually good at naming translators, but they probably only load up the information supplied by the publisher. You can ask for corrections - find the book, scroll down to Product Details and click on "Would you like to update product info?" - then follow the instructions.

Helen Wang, September 5, 2016, 8:18a.m.

# 4.   

Bruce--I just thought I would point out that if you search Joel's name on Amazon the Problem with Me comes up as the second hit. So it's not easy to find but the information is in there somewhere.

Having worked with Amazon in the past, I totally support their method of translating and editing when it is required. For the first book I translated, some parts were cut with the author's permission. Ultimately not many changes were made. For the second book, many details were repeated in different chapters and after speaking with the author, we decided to streamline the book and remove many of those repetitions. So as the translator I did a small amount of cutting, then reviewed and accepted or rejected cuts made by a professional, non-Chinese speaking editor. All cuts were approved by the author.

I think it's a good system. You could argue that the translated work is not "faithful to the original" but I know how much was changed, and I think all the changes were made to improve storytelling and keep the reader engaged.

Michelle Deeter, September 6, 2016, 9:20a.m.

# 5.   

I've worked with Amazon as an editor in the past, and we did quite a bit of surgery on the book. I assume that author permission was granted ahead of time -- I did not speak with the author. But I went to town on the text.

Eric Abrahamsen, September 6, 2016, 10:28a.m.

# 6.   

If a translator finds something in the source text that could be greatly improved upon, such as taking out repetitive parts, would it be considered an overstep if the translator brings the matter to the editor, even to work with the author and the publisher to edit the text? In doing so, shouldn't the translator be rewarded for the extra service? If a translator is rewarded for making such wise editing contributing to the book's wider recognition, should more translators follow this path?

Jun Liu, September 6, 2016, 11:32a.m.

# 7.   

Texts once rendered into a published form, all begins a life on their own in the eyes of beholders. As a 'seldom' feel-the-need-to-translate writer, I used to hate reading my many drafts again and at different stage of drafting, since each time, there's always places that need to be re-worked. So translators might need to wear the hats of critical reviewer instead, if repetition in the original published version is not so great in his view ?

susan, September 10, 2016, 5:33p.m.

# 8.   

I have mixed feelings about editing--generally I prefer to keep as much of the original text intact as possible. That said, I totally agree that mainland writers don't seem to get edited nearly as much as authors getting published in English. Not sure if this is out of deference to the authors or different standards or what. In my experience, though, it seems to work best to translate everything first, and then have a really good editor go through and cut the fluff. And then of course consult with the author to approve the cuts. Editing as you translate would save some time and effort, but you might also miss something worth including. It also opens you up to criticism as a translator--ie that you're skipping the hard stuff.

Nick Stember, September 18, 2016, 11:04p.m.

# 9.   

@ Nick

I agree about translating everything first; to my mind, that's the translator's basic job. But it's rare that I'd be the one to hire and manage the editor.

My experience is that some publishers treat my rendition with kid gloves and only polish the English for readability. To my mind, that effectively means that the text has STILL not really ever been edited. The result: Some mediocre wordage or passages that detract from the story are faithfully rendered in English for the reader.

Is this because publishers are nervous about being accused of politically incorrect editing, i.e., misrepresenting a Chinese author's work in order to ensure better marketability? Or because publishers are too cheap to hire a professional editor?

Don't know. Either way, such practices will continue to feed the perception that the readability of translated literature is inferior to that published in the writer's mother tongue.

Bruce Humes, September 19, 2016, 1:37a.m.

# 10.   

Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that I think hiring and managing an editor is something the translator should be responsible for, unless they can work it into their bid. By the time most projects reach the translator, though, there isn't a lot of overhead left over to work with, especially for literary fiction.

As you point out though, clients, even ones with lots of mono-lingual editing experience, seem to expect that a 'finished' translation will only need light editing.

My guess would be that marketability (or at least the way we generally think of marketability) ranks pretty low for a lot of publishers of translated fiction, who tend to come out of academic backgrounds. Cost might be part of it, but I think they're more worried about getting called out for misrepresenting an author--abridgements get a pretty bad rap from lit professors. For a lot of university presses then, the bigger concern is whether or not the book is going to get assigned for undergrad classes and survey courses. If a translation is considered flawed, or a cop out, the more chances there are that it will get passed up for a 'better' (ie more complete) translation.

[For an example of this, just look at what's happened with Constance Garnett's very readable translations from the Russian.]

Obviously, this applies more to the classics and stuff that's out of copyright, but I think it seeps over into the way people think about translations of contemporary literature too. Better a flawed masterpiece is conveyed in the whole than a lackluster gem gets polished into a shining diamond.

Nick Stember, September 19, 2016, 3:33a.m.


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