When 'livvylong' is Chinese

Updated: 2012-09-18 10:31

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

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Finnegans Wake, a hugely complicated work by Irish author James Joyce, will get a reception from Chinese readers in September.

The first volume of Finnegans Wake was translated by Dai Congrong, a Chinese language and literature professor of Fudan University, and will be published by Shanghai People's Publishing House.

"I was aware about how tough it would be from the very beginning," Dai says.

"Yet without Chinese translation, the book would remain a mystery for Chinese readers, especially those who love James Joyce."

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Dai says she spent 10 years translating the work. And this is just the first volume.

At a recent seminar about the Chinese edition of Finnegans Wake, Dai shared her experience of translating the book with a group of scholars from the literature department of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In the translated work, Dai keeps about half of the author's original words, and has put down every possible meaning of some complicated words that have rich meanings as footnotes.

"Many words in this book have very rich meanings, and that's why people find it hard to get it right," Dai says. "As a translator, I think I tried to not translate each word and sentence, only based on my own understanding. This way, we can leave more space for the readers."

She says the footnotes are equally important as Joyce's original text, as they show the author's open-mindedness and diversity.

Joyce, an Irish novelist and poet, is considered one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century.

Finnegans Wake, which Joyce worked on for 17 years in his later years, is a work of comic fiction and significant for its experimental style.

The book is also known as the most difficult work in English literature. Upon writing the book, Joyce once said that it would take people 300 years to fully understand its meaning.

While a French translation of the book took 30 years and the German version took 19 years, it took Dai just a decade to translate the first volume.

"In order to grasp its meaning, I had to break up each word and study it individually, as the book is full of word combinations that Joyce created," she says. "For example, the word 'livvylong' can be understood as 'Livvy is a long river', or as 'life long'."

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More than 10 scholars attended the discussion and shared their opinions on the translated edition.

Liu Yiqing, an English teacher from Peking University, thinks the book should not only consider readers who are Joyce experts.

"There is still something we can improve in the way the footnotes are presented," she says. "While putting every possible meaning in Chinese into the text, it will break the integrity of the story. We should make it a story that is also interesting for college students to read and understand."

Zhang Yu, a 26-year-old student who studied comparative literature during her postgraduate studies, says she heard about Finnegans Wake at university, but was taken aback by the abnormal writing style and found it difficult to understand.

"I am very much looking forward to the translated version in Chinese, even though there may be obstacles," she says.

Wang Weisong, editor-in-chief of Shanghai People's Publishing House, says readership of the Chinese translation mainly focuses on Chinese scholars who study Joyce's works.

But they also hope that all fans of Joyce will love the book.



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