一周一句 Sunday Sentence #8

By Jack Hargreaves, published

Part of: Sunday Sentence

cover image

For the final week of Sunday Sentence round one, we have the opening sentence of the as-yet untranslated 《六人晚餐》 (Dinner for Six) by Lu Min 鲁敏 (2012). Thanks to Emily Jones for the suggestion!
Please input your translation in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

The sentence to translate is:

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

Engulfed by the choking air of a large Chinese city's factory zone, the story follows the lives of six characters forced to sit across from each other every Saturday evening at the dinner table, at once an uncomfortable composite family and a collection of six lonely souls, struggling with the harsh realities of life in the new China.

Why this sentence:
It's really quite simple. But there are so many ways to put it into English: which is best, which is most faithful, which is most elegant? How you open the books sets the tone for the rest.

Author Bio:
Lu Min was born 1973 in Dongtai, Jiangsu Province. Her mother was a teacher, her father an engineer. She started working at eighteen, and has been a post office clerk, a secretary, a journalist, a civil servant and more. She currently lives in Nanjing. Lu Min started writing at the age of twenty-five and has published novels such as Multiple Love Letters, The Steering Wheel, Undeliverable Feelings, and Dinner for Six. Her short story collections and novellas include Accompany the Feast, The Song of Parting, The View finder, Stirring up the Dust, and Page-Drunk.

Looking forward to your translations!


# 1.   

I did a sample translation of this book a few years ago, so I'll just copy and paste that sentence here. Dinner for Six has just been published in Serbian (tr. Bojan Tarabic) and I think some other language editions may be out soon. It would be great to see it in English as well. See Brigitte Duzan's review in French here)


The story started, well, it's fair to say everything started, with the air in the industrial estate. The air being the agent that caused emotions to ferment, the pigment and preservative for pickling the past.

Helen Wang, July 20, 2020, 11:45p.m.

# 2.   


Everything began, why don’t we say, from the air in the industrial estate. This air was the leavening agent, the origin of fermenting emotions, and the colouring and preservative which cured the past.

I decided to use ‘cure’ to mean ‘preserve’ in the end to create a small play on words. The description of them being six lonely souls was something to sympathise with, and that made me feel that their shared company would, in some way, help heal (cure) each other as much as preserve them.

Phyllis Ang, July 21, 2020, 2:52p.m.

# 3.   

If you want a beginning, you could do worse than to trace all these things back to the air over the yards. It is an air that bubbles with fermenting emotion, a marinade that stains and preserves all that happened within it.


Varying levels of confidence on the choices here! :-) Low confidence on the switch to present tense, low confidence on 'the yards' (although it does look like some kind of familiar/slang term might be called for?). But I do want to put in a plug for leaning towards strong flavors/smells over (clean clinical) correct terms for 酵母. Maybe not exactly like this? I worry that 起源 is not so clear in this version. But something that stinks a bit, if possible.

stevenL, July 21, 2020, 4:11p.m.

# 4.   

Rather than everything at once, it’s better just to start with the air in the factory district. That air was the yeast that fermented my feelings to begin with; it’s also the pigment and preservative that keep what happened from rotting away.

I tried to stick pretty close to the original, unlike #3 above, which is elegant rather than faithful. This is always a choice in translating. I'm pretty confident, unlike #3, in switching from past to present. I thought about 'cure' (which I rejected precisely because of the double meaning, but maybe it's better to keep it, though it goes beyond the original, something controversial among translators). I also thought about "pickles," but that also has a double, or maybe triple meaning of sort of preserved, salty, and 'in a pickle," so I thought it was amplifying too much and had too many resonances for an English reader. I thought 'keep from rotting away' was a little cumbersome, but it keeps the sense of 防腐。

Steve Harrell, July 21, 2020, 6:17p.m.

# 5.   

It all started with the air in the factory yard. This air was the yeast that comes from fermented emotions and the colours and preservatives used for pickling the past.

Lorna A, July 23, 2020, 3:48p.m.

# 6.   

Sorry, sent too fast! Should have read:

It all started with the air in the factory yard. This air was the yeast that ferments emotions and the colours and preservatives that pickle the past.

Lorna A, July 23, 2020, 5:29p.m.

# 7.   

"There's so much to say; I ought to start from the air of the factory district. That air was the mother that fermented our emotions, the brine that colored and preserved our past."

It was interesting to see how others translated "所有的一切". "...everything started..." "Everything began..." "trace all these things back to..." "Rather than everything at once..." "It all started..."

For me, the phrasing "不如就。。。" indicates strongly that the narrator is choosing the starting point, in a "We really should..." or "We might as well..." sort of way. I tried to foreground that narratorial choice in my translation.

William Dou, July 23, 2020, 10:08p.m.

# 8.   


It all started with the air from the factory district - fumes like yeast that caused emotions to ferment, a mix of chemicals that preserved things past.

I took a bit of liberty with some parts, trying to keep the sentence as snappy as possible. I'm not entirely confident though on the effectiveness of my description of the air.

Leonardo Magnelli, July 24, 2020, 10a.m.

# 9.   


How about we start from the air in the production area of the factory, the place in which emotions brewed while serving as the brightness and preservative means that covered up past events.

Lucy Elwood, July 24, 2020, 10a.m.

# 10.   

All being equal, let’s start with the atmosphere in the factory. This atmosphere is the original yeast in which past events were marinating and emotions were fermenting, their colors preserved.

SharonD, July 24, 2020, 4:57p.m.

# 11.   

Rather than telling the whole story, it's best to say that everything began with the air in the factory. An air which brews emotions, a strong colouring preserving the past, preventing it from rotting away.

所有的一切 was very difficult to translate considering the different interpretations it can take.

I decided to switch between tenses because I got the feeling that the speaker wanted to emphasis 'the air' and thought that it would have more impact if it was in the present tense.

Ruth Matanda, July 24, 2020, 8:24p.m.

# 12.   

所有的一切,不如就从厂区的空气说起。这空气,是酿造情感起源的酵母,也是腌制往事的色素与防腐剂。 This story, and many more besides, could be said to begin with the air in the industrial estate. The culture that set emotions fermenting. Both pigment and preservative for pickling the past.

Experimenting a little with fragmentary sentences. I don't know what the next sentence is but it would be really helpful if a reference to the air could be slipped in again... "It was that air which..." or something along those lines.

I will definitely be reading Lu Min's work in the near future.

Last week of Sunday Sentence for now! I'll make a post tomorrow to round things off and request suggestions from you all. Thanks for participating! You've all given me plenty of inspiration and ideas for how to tackle difficult translations, so thank you. I hope the activity has been helpful and fun for you too!

Jack Hargreaves, July 25, 2020, 11:55a.m.

# 13.   

"Let's just say, it all began from the air enveloping the industrial estate. It was an air much like yeast that gave rise to emotions, lending colour to bygone days, conserving them in a marinade of memories."

Nothing to do with the above translation, but all to do with the Sunday Sentences I've worked on for the last 7 weeks (plus this). I've really enjoyed it, and have realised many more possibilities which I've not thought of. Big thanks to Paper Republic and Jack above for organising this! Look forward to the next round

Christina Ng, July 25, 2020, 12:37p.m.

# 14.   

After all, it would be best to start with the air in the industrial district. That air was the yeast where desires foamed, the brine where memories were colored and preserved.

It's been great to see the Chinese translation community out here. Thank you to Paper Republic and Jack!

Kevin Wang, July 25, 2020, 5:04p.m.

# 15.   

Let us begin with the factory’s air. This air is not only the yeast fermented the original emotion, but also the pigment and preservative to cover up the past.

Freda Y., July 26, 2020, 4:58a.m.

# 16.   

Let us begin with the factory’s air. This air is not only the yeast fermented the original emotion, but also the pigment and preservative to cover up the past.

Freda Y., July 26, 2020, 4:58a.m.

# 17.   

To behold everything, let’s begin by talking about the air in the industrial area. It was the starter for brewing emotions, and the preservative and pigment that held the past.

Lianne Chua, July 30, 2020, 5:04a.m.

# 18.   

-I’ll get around to telling you everything, but first let me tell you about the air in the industrial park. This air, this atmosphere, was the mother yeast that gave rise to the way we sensed and felt, and the brine that pickled and pigmented our past.-

Was tempted to go wild with the food metaphors and turn the past into an actual pickle, or describe bread-baking or even kombucha-making. It’s hard to settle on either “atmosphere” or “air” for 空气. The next paragraph has 其空气,最显著的一个特点,不是,而是丰满,拥挤,富有包围感

Yikes. I wonder what Helen Wang did with that?

If you want another extremely creative sentence by Lu Min that’ll twist your brain like ashtanga, check out this one from the novella 《风月鉴》: 我非常专注地跟着宋师傅学手艺,在布料与线头之间,我的少年期,像被染过颜色的植物,色彩是绚丽的,却总有着病态的安静。

The version I grudgingly gave a pass to and sent in to Words Without Borders after many rounds of deleting, going to get coffee, and starting again: “I was extremely devoted to studying Master Song’s craft, surrounded by swaths of cloth and bits of thread, whiling away a boyhood like a plant dyed an unnatural hue, brightly colored, but sick inside, silently suffering.” https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article/june-2019-queer-snipping-heartstrings-lu-min-michael-day

Thank you for this fun, instructive activity!

Michael Day, August 3, 2020, 3:29a.m.


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