一周一句 Sunday Sentence #5

By Jack Hargreaves, published

Part of: Sunday Sentence

cover image

Sunday Sentence #5 comes from an unreleased book, 《鹰头猫与音乐箱女孩》 by Dorothy Tse 謝曉虹, due out with Aquarius in July 2020 (next month!) and currently being translated by Natascha Bruce with the working title, Owlish & the Music-Box Ballerina.

Please input your translation in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

The sentence to translate is:

And for anyone who fancies it, here is the sentence that finishes the paragraph:

Remember, you can post your translation anytime between now and next Sunday, so you have plenty of time to ponder and refine it.

This is the third sentence of the book, so not too much background is necessary. Professor Q is a middle-aged literature professor who has recently embarked on his first extra-marital affair (with a doll, though we don't know that yet). Falling in love like this has changed everything about how he sees the world, particularly his city -- a hardly-veiled-at-all version of Hong Kong, in the throes of an increasingly powerful student protest movement.

Why this sentence:
This is such a quintessentially Dorothy Tse sentence! The description is razor sharp and ever so slightly off kilter, someone's brain is feeling a certain way, and there's such a neat rhythm to the Chinese. It's also an incredibly important sentence, as it's effectively setting the scene for the entire novel; every single word is there for a reason. But it's four lines long and each noun comes absolutely laden with modifiers, which just doesn't make it easy to turn into English.

Author Bio:
Dorothy Tse is a fiction writer from Hong Kong. She has published four collections of short stories in Chinese; her first to appear in English is Snow and Shadow, translated by Nicky Harman. This sentence is taken from her first novel, 《鷹頭貓與音樂箱女孩》, due out with Aquarius in July 2020. Her writing is often labelled 'surrealist', and it is undeniably bizarre (a woman half turns into a fish; businessmen are kidnapped and stored in tanks in a shopping mall basement; kombucha may or may not be eating people) but it also tends to be grounded in unnervingly familiar settings and populated with characters who seem very real indeed.

Thank you so much to Natascha for suggesting this sentence and giving us some background.

I look forward to your translations!


# 1.   

So, in the thick humidity of that heavy, head-swelling winter afternoon, when Professor Q as usual looked out of his house through the narrow window’s stainless steel flower-patterned grille, he didn’t actually see the ocean, he didn’t see the blades of sunlight that descended from the sky and wantonly slashed it into numerous glasslike shards, nor did he see the ships of many colors anchored aggressively in the bay, or even their mechanical arms that plunged unceasingly into its depths.

ENJ, June 28, 2020, 4:27p.m.

# 2.   

So, on that winter’s afternoon, in an atmosphere viscous and heavy enough to make your brain swell, when Professor Q looked out as usual from behind the decorative stainless steel grille on the narrow window of his home, he didn’t actually see the sea, didn’t see, from out of the blue, the razor-sharp beams of sunlight that wantonly sliced the water into many glass-like fragments, didn’t see the brightly coloured ships always anchored in the bay full of battle intent, nor the mechanical cranes constantly delving deep into the seabed.

Lorna A, June 29, 2020, 8:56a.m.

# 3.   

This was highly descriptive and lots of fun to work on!


Thus, on that winter afternoon where the air was thick and made the head heavy and swollen, Professor Q did not see the sea when he looked out the narrow flower-patterned stainless-steel window grill of his home, as was his habit. He did not see the razor rays descending from the sky, cut arbitrarily into many glassy shards, did not see the brightly-coloured ships moored in the bay, brimming with belligerence, nor their mechanical arms reaching ceaselessly for the depths of the seabed.

Phyllis Ang, June 29, 2020, 11:44a.m.

# 4.   


Therefore, on that winter afternoon where the air was so heavy and gummy it made the head swell, Professor Q actually did not notice the sea when he, as always, looked out of the decorative stainless steel grille of his narrow window at home. He missed the rays of sunlight sharp like blades of knives thrown down from the sky, waywardly slicing up the sea into myriad glass-like shards. He missed the few striking ships anchored in the bay looking like they were ready for combat, and he missed their mechanical arms venturing again and again into the depths of the sea.

Christina Ng, June 29, 2020, 1:55p.m.

# 5.   

因此,在那空气黏稠、沉甸甸令人脑袋发胀的冬日下午,当教授Q习惯性地从家里那扇狭小的镶了不锈钢窗花的窗口看出去时,竟然没有看到海,没有看到从天而降,锋利如刀片的阳光把它任意割切成许多玻璃似的碎片,没有看到一直停泊在海湾里几条颜色明艳,充满了战意的船,以及它们那些不断深入海床里的机械吊臂。教授Q看到的是一个居住了多年的城市,从内部渐渐膨胀起来,形成一个饱满的头颅,并慢慢回转过来,向他展示了另一张脸。(I did the full paragrapgh for funsies)

So when on that winter afternoon, Professor Q, his head swollen by the soupy, leaden air, looked out as usual through the decorative stainless steel grille affixed to his window, he never saw the sea, nor the razor-sharp sunlight slashing that great blue into myriad vitreous shards; never noticed the menacing ranks of brightly-coloured ships in the bay, nor the cranes on their decks that thrust dredging claws, over and over, deep into the sea bed. No, what Professor Q saw instead, was the city that he had long called home distend, bulge to the shape of a bulbous skull that turned, slowly but surely, to reveal to him an unfamiliar face.

I maybe took a few liberties with this translation.

I translated this passage earlier this year as part of a group during a great workshop led by Natascha. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I can't remember any of my group's translation, but I can remember from the discussion how many challenges this book presents for a translator - hint, it's a helluva lot! So kudos to Natascha. The book's name and the town where the story is set alone were enough to make my head my spin.

 Jack Hargreaves, June 30, 2020, 10:26a.m.

# 6.   

So, on that winter’s afternoon when the air was viscous and heavy enough to give you a headache, when Professor Q gazed as usual through his narrow window with its latticed grille, he did not see the sea; he did not see the sun’s rays falling like blades from the sky and splintering the water; he did not see the brightly-coloured ships at anchor in the bay, their booms belligerently pounding the seabed.

Nicky Harman, June 30, 2020, 10:34a.m.

# 7.   

Murderous! But a lot of fun. In the last half-hour I came up with many different versions for each sentence. Main difficulties: visualizing the scene (what kind of grilles on windows) and deciding what (if anything to drop) and working out that image of sun's rays slicing down etc etc. And the ships puzzled me. Are industrial ships equipped with booms really brightly coloured?

Nicky Harman, June 30, 2020, 10:37a.m.

# 8.   

This passage was probably, up until now, one of my favourites to translate. I did the extra paragraph as well... it definitely makes you feel Professor Q's estrangement. I loved the descriptiveness and it was a nice challenge!

因此,在那空气黏稠、沉甸甸令人脑袋发胀的冬日下午,当教授Q习惯性地从家里那扇狭小的镶了不锈钢窗花的窗口看出去时,竟然没有看到海,没有看到从天而降,锋利如刀片的阳光把它任意割切成许多玻璃似的碎片,没有看到一直停泊在海湾里几条颜色明艳,充满了战意的船,以及它们那些不断深入海床里的机械吊臂。 教授Q看到的是一个居住了多年的城市,从内部渐渐膨胀起来,形成一个饱满的头颅,并慢慢回转过来,向他展示了另一张脸。

Then, out of habit, Professor Q looked outside through the narrow stainless steel pattern of the window grid and gazed into the dense, mind-numbing air of that winter afternoon. He could not see the ocean, nor the razor-sharp sunbeams that cut through the clouds and shattered the water’s surface into thousands of glass shards; he could not see the brightly coloured boats always at anchor in the bay, brimming with battle intent, nor their mechanical arms constantly dredging the bottom of the ocean. Professor Q saw a city that had been inhabited for many years; one that had gradually grown from its centre out into the shape of a big head, which had slowly turned around to show him another face.

Leonardo Magnelli, July 1, 2020, 3:24a.m.

# 9.   


So, on that afternoon of a winters day that was so clammy and humid that it made your head feel stuffy, when Professor Q looked out from the small narrow window mounted with a stainless steel grille, much to his surprise he couldn’t see the ocean, he couldn’t see the rays of light that cut through the sky forming what appeared to be shards of broken glass that were as sharp as knives, nor could he see the colourful boats that were anchored in the bay, making their military presence known with their mechanical booms endlessly clawing at the ocean floor.

教授Q看到的是一个居住了多年的城市,从内部渐渐膨胀起来,形成一个饱满的头颅,并慢慢回转过来,向他展示了另一张脸。 What Professor Q could see was the city he had resided in for a number of years, gradually increasing in size from the inner parts, forming a plump skull like figure that slowly turned around, revealing an unfamiliar face staring back at him.

Lucy Elwood, July 1, 2020, 6:38a.m.

# 10.   

So in that wintry afternoon, dizzied by the dense and sticky air, Professor Q peered out of the window of his house, that small and narrow window inlaid with stainless steel motifs, as he usually did; it surprised him that he didn’t see the sea, or the rays of sunshine shooting down from the skies, piercing as razorblades and rending it willy-nilly into tiny shards like broken glass, or the brightly colored boats permanently anchored by the bay, bellicose, with their mechanical arms delving deeply and incessantly into the seabed.

Eric Chiang, July 1, 2020, 11:21a.m.

# 11.   

What interests me is that despite the heavy loads of qualifiers, the tone of these lines is brisk and cheerful, like that of a fairy tale. The author introduces the reader into the story with ……,当……竟然……, reminding me of how a diary by a pleasantly inquisitive child unfolds itself. And the qualifiers, straightforward and clear-cut, are weaved into a fuzzy whole as if someone simply enjoys adding layers and layers of jam on a piece of bread.

P.S. the Chinese title of the book reads like a tongue-twister, funny>~<


So on that heavy winter afternoon, when Professor Q, drenched in the sticky, mind-numbing air, looked as usual through the stainless steel grille mounted on the narrow window of his house, he did not see the ocean, which the razor-sharp sunlight, descending from heaven, imperiously cut into tiny shimmering pieces, nor did he see the bright-colored, battle-ready ships docked in the bay, where cranes kept reaching further and deeper into the seabed. All that he saw was a city—one he had long lived in—puff up to form a round, plump head, and turning slowly around, reveal to him an alien face.

Yaqi, July 3, 2020, 6:12a.m.

# 12.   

Hello everyone, reading these has been very inspiring! Here's what I've got for the sentence(s) so far, though I'm sure I'll go back and edit eventually (an advantage to choosing a sentence from a work-in-progress):


"Which would explain why, on that gluey winter afternoon, with the air weighing heavily on his brain, when Professor Q gazed as usual through the stainless steel grille over his narrow little window, he did not see the ocean. Nor did he note the sudden emergence of a razor-sharp sun, slicing the water into thousands of glassy splinters, or the continued existence of the bright, warlike ships that were always anchored in the bay, their mechanical arms flexing up and down into the seabed. No, what Professor Q saw was the city he had lived in for many years gradually swelling into a head, then slowly rotating to show him its other face."

The ships tormented me for days. Like lots of people here, I wondered about making 充满了战意的 into an adverb later on, or else using a more pugnacious verb for their booms, like Nicky's 'pounding' or Lucy's 'clawing', although I do like the immediate, weird contrast between 颜色明艳 and 充满了战意的. I'm also on the fence about whether 'bright' is a cop out for 颜色明艳, because it doesn't quite capture the colours, though I thought it was a cheery enough word that kept the rhythm tight. And I've gone for 'mechanical arms' over 'booms' because the city is very humanised in the book -- it has a face, it has concrete flesh etc -- and I wanted to keep in a nod to the .

Natascha Bruce, July 3, 2020, 9:14a.m.

# 13.   

And so, on that winter's afternoon when the air was so stickily oppressive your head could have exploded, Professor Q glanced as usual through the stainless steel grille of his narrow window--and didn't see the ocean, nor sunlight falling from the sky like blades to slice it willy-nilly into shards, nor the vivid ships permanently stationed in the bay, bristling and battle-ready, their robot arms constantly plundering the sea-bed. Instead, he saw a slow swelling within the city where he'd lived so many years, forming a bulbous head that lazily turned and presented another face to him.

Jeremy Tiang, July 3, 2020, 11:22a.m.

# 14.   

oh, I LOVE "bristling and battle-ready"

Natascha Bruce, July 3, 2020, 11:31a.m.

# 15.   

As so often, the challenge was rendering the fluidity and propulsive force of the original -- the English language feels so cumbersome at times like this.

Jeremy Tiang, July 3, 2020, 11:32a.m.

# 16.   

Thanks! I had "bristling with battle-readiness" for "充满了战意" and then decided that sounded clumsy.

Jeremy Tiang, July 3, 2020, 11:33a.m.

# 17.   

I also found English particularly cumbersome with this translation. Chinese can pack in heaps of description and still sound concise, but when you start trying to include everything in the translation, it's very easy to end up using relative clauses in practically every sentence, which affects the flow. I wasn't really sure what I could safely omit from the original and leave implicit, e.g. in the first sentence - the window is on Professor Q's house and is narrow AND small AND has a grille AND it's made of stainless steel AND decorated etc. What are the most important details to keep?? I thought Nicky's "shattering the sea" was a very elegant and effective way to deal with another tricky stretch of description.

My approach this time was to see if I could include every detail of the original without it sounding too horrible.

Here it is:

"So when habit dictated that Professor Q gaze out between the decorative bars of the stainless steel grill affixed to his narrow window on that head-swellingly viscous and heavy winter's afternoon, to his surprise, he didn't see the sea. He didn't see the sun's knife-sharp rays falling like blades from the sky wantonly slicing the water into countless glassy shards. He didn't see the handful of brightly coloured industrial boats ever at anchor in the harbour, poised battle-ready with their mechanical arms ceaselessly plunging into the sea bed. What Professor Q saw was a city he'd lived in for years swelling up from within to form a plump head that slowed turned round, revealing to him another face."

I also found it difficult to translate the parts about window grilles and the boats. I started with "decorative window grilles", because I'd initially assumed they were patterned mosquito screens, but then I realised they are the security bars you see on almost every window on a HK apartment - functional not decorative, but often… patterned? I struggle to describe them in English. Also the boats - the original description is so apt but it was difficult to make it sound right in English. I think the 充满战意 describes the way that the ships used for unloading cargo, dredging etc in HK often look ominous and threatening, almost like huge insects waiting to attack. When I did a quite direct translation, I felt they sounded like some incongruously colourful military ships.

It's so interesting (and very educational) to read everyone's versions especially when they include the thought processes behind them :-)

Sarah D, July 4, 2020, 7:35a.m.

# 18.   

Thanks for posting your translation Natascha. I like how you have broken the passage up. Looking forward to the full book!

Does the sunlight's "sudden emergence" map onto the 任意? It's a really vivid image.

There are some great verb choices above for expressing the aggression 充满了战意的.

Everyone be ready for Jeremy's suggested sentence next week - a whole different challenge to what we've tackled thus far.

 Jack Hargreaves, July 5, 2020, 4:19a.m.


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