Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

Frog Reviewed at The Millions

The word frog in Chinese is (wā), while the word for child is (wá). Frogs are omnipresent in the text and haunt Gugu, a village obstetrician who rabidly enacts China’s infamous family planning policy and is thus responsible for thousands of abortions. The beauty of the metaphor lies in the ambiguity between these two similar sounding words. If we substitute the word frog for child, then the constant references to frogs throughout becomes haunting.

At one point in the novel, Gugu, returning after a night of drinking with friends, is chased by frogs. In the English translation, she is initially unsettled by the sound of croaking reverberating “as if the cries of infants” before eventually being chased by “an incalculable number of frogs.” But in Chinese, both the cries of frogs and children are also (wā). So in the Chinese original, this paragraph hangs on the inflections of these three wa sounds. If we see Gugu as chased by the ghostly wails of the children she has aborted, as opposed to the mere croaks of frogs, then the scene takes on the gravity and weight appropriate for a Nobel Prize winner. The way the meanings interweave due to their similar pronunciation is ethereal and translucent — and entirely lost in the English translation.

attached to: Frog


# 1.   

Glad to see that Shoemaker's essay has been posted here, and look forward to everyone's comments.

Some interesting ones have already been posted under the review itself.

For my part, when I featured a link to this review on my blog earlier, I wrote:

The reasons I cited this review are these: The author calls attention to the fact that “Frog” is a translation, names the translator, and discusses the impact of the translator’s choices on his work. I think we need more examples of this, instead of the current approach where the reviewer tends to be monolingual and sometimes even neglects to mention the translator!

Additionally, I heartily agree that often-translated authors would be better served appearing in various “guises,” i.e., if their texts were rendered by more than one translator. I was elated to see that a few years back the Lin Shaohua (林少华) monopoly on Murakami Haruki ended abruptly, and including versions from Taiwan, there are now at least three translators of Murakami into Chinese. I found Lin Shaohua’s “voice” virtually unreadable . . .

 Bruce, March 29, 2015, 4:07a.m.


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