The Best Untranslated Books [2009]

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The following list is from 2009 – see the newest list here. We're pleased to announce that, as of 2018, five of the following nine books have been translated!

Happy (高兴), by Jia Pingwa
The tragi-comic story of two trash-collecting peasants determined to conquer Xi'an and realize their dream of becoming city-folk.
Dancing Through Red Dust (原谅我红尘颠倒), by Murong Xuecun
A surprisingly frank and raunchy romp through the corruption and debauchery that prevail in China's newly-formed legal profession.
Everything Grows (万物生长), by Feng Tang
This coming-of-age tale has helped define and express not only life in Beijing's new middle class, but what it means to be young in China.
Northern Girls (北妹), by Sheng Keyi
Qian Xiaohong and her fellow migrant workers struggle to make lives for themselves in the city of Shenyang, building their own fragile under-society as they face questions of self-respect, principle, and survival.
Black and White (黑白), by Chu Fujin
A young chess prodigy uses his skill to make a life for himself in pre-war Nanjing, a life that is thrown into chaos when the Japanese invade and the boy, now becoming a man, embarks on a journey south that simultaneously leads him forward and backward in the history of his romantic relationships.
Abandoned Capital (废都), by Jia Pingwa
A gloriously sexual tale of a young literary lion who comes to Xi'an to worship, then challenge, his idol and mentor, the writer Zhuang Zhidie.
Notes on Principles (务虚笔记), by Shi Tiesheng
The incredible challenge of self-definition in the new China is dramatized through the experiences of six characters: a painter, a teacher, a doctor, a poet, a director and a disabled person.
Floating City (浮城) by Liang Xiaosheng
This "Lord of the Flies for adults" tells the bizarre tale of an entire city that breaks away from the mainland and floats away to sea, leaving the inhabitants to cling to civilization as best they can.
Coloratura (花腔), Li Er
Historical truth can be both revealed and concealed within documents – this is the formally-adventurous novel of the revolutionary poet Ge Ren, and his search for truth.


# 1.   

This is it, my friends, the dream-list. If we could somehow manage to translate these works into English within the next decade, people would remember this as the golden age...

Cindy M. Carter, June 4, 2009, 6:51p.m.

# 2.   

About this list, just to inform that two items have been translated in french: 1/ "Everything grows" as "Qiu comme l'automne" published in 2007 by Editions de l'Olivier and translated by Sylvie Gentil. 2/ "Abandonned Capital" as "La capitale déchue" published by Editions Stock in 1997 and translated by Genevieve Imbot Bichet; this novel got the Prix Femina the same year. 3/ Agree that Shi tiesheng is probably the most injustly overlooked; a collection of his short stories have been translated by Annie Curien under the title "Fatalité" and published by Gallimard in 2004 ; enclosed is a gem "The Ditan park and myself".

Bertrand Mialaret, June 5, 2009, 3:26p.m.

# 3.   

Bertrand, you're right, of course. If it's shaming how little UK publishers publish in translation, it's encouraging how much the French (and Italians) publish. I've actually got a copy of "La capitale déchue", thanks to Interesting.

Nicky Harman, June 6, 2009, 10:17a.m.

# 4.   

In fact, we could probably judge how authoritative this list is by the number of books on it that have already been translated into French…

Eric Abrahamsen, June 7, 2009, 6:34a.m.

# 5.   

This is a really, really fantastic resource - thanks so much for putting it up.

Is there a socio-cultural explanation for the better French scene - the presses more open? More Sino-French cultural exchange and therefore more translators? Incentive structures for translating work different due to a combination of the above?

RPC, June 11, 2009, 1:50a.m.

# 6.   

That's a good question, and one that a French person could probably answer better than I. My sense is that, ever since the chinoiserie fad of the 18th century, France has had a fascination with China and all things Chinese. China has entered the national imagination, and however accurately that imagination tallies with reality, it's enough to spur consumption. I've heard of French publishers rejecting Chinese books because they "weren't Chinese enough". That means they've got a firm concept what "China" is, and they like it.

By contrast, I think it's precisely this imaginative acceptance that's lacking in English speaking countries. When you say "Chinese novel" to a Brit or American, I don't think anything at all leaps immediately to mind, which is slowing down acceptance of books.

Eric Abrahamsen, June 11, 2009, 8:31a.m.

# 7.   

I agree with Eric that the "chinoiserie fad" has played a big role.But it should be stated that the French are possibly more open to foreign cultures;foreign litterature market share related to total litterature market is in France more than double what it is in the US and the UK.This of course plays a very significant role. I should mention also several publishers specialised in asian litterature. Not to forget first class translators who are also university professors of international/asian litterature. Subsidies to translations like in the UK also helps. Just to give you an example :14 books by Mo Yan have been translated in French, the last one "Life and death are wearing me out", for once has been translated in English first (by H. Goldblatt...and I am enjoying reading it..)and will be published in French next September.

Bertrand Mialaret, June 11, 2009, 6:26p.m.

# 8.   

CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOAD CATALOG: Due to the last Guadalajara Internacional Book Fair 2009, Ediciones del Laberinto releases the new Children and Young Adults foreign rights catalogue for this fall, featuring our new releases. Our main titles this season are Alas negras (Black Wings), a sequel of Alas de Fuego (Wings of Fire) by the well-known writer Laura Gallego, with more than 60,000 copies sold in Spain. And El violín negro (The Black Violin) by the young writer Sandra Andrés, a thrilling story featuring the mysterious legend of the Phantom of the Opera, that has been very well received by readers around Spain and Latin America. We would like to thank you once more for putting your trust in us. Enjoy your reading!

Laberinto, December 2, 2009, 5:27p.m.


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