4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation: Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang in Conversation

Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang are both writers who accumulate languages. Sitting down with host Emily Hyde, they discuss their work in and across Chinese and English, but you’ll also hear them on Sichuanese, the dialect of Mandarin spoken in Yan Ge’s native Sichuan province, and on the Queen’s English as it operates in Singapore, where Jeremy grew up. Yan is an acclaimed writer in China, where she began publishing at age 17. She now lives in the UK. Her novel Strange Beasts of China came out in English in 2020, in Jeremy’s translation. Jeremy, in addition to having translated more than 20 books from Chinese, is also a novelist and a playwright currently based in New York City. This conversation roams from cryptozoology to Confucius, from the market for World Literature to the patriarchal structure of language. Yan reads from the “Sacrificial Beasts” chapter of her novel, and Jeremy envies the brevity and compression of her Chinese before reading his own English translation. Throughout this warmhearted conversation, Yan and Jeremy insist upon particularity: upon the specificity of language, even in translation, and the distinctiveness of identity, even in a globalized world. We learn more about Yan’s decision to write in English, and Jeremy’s cat chimes in with an answer to our signature question about untranslatability! Tune in, and keep a look out for Yan’s English-language debut, Elsewhere, a collection of stories, due out in 2023.

Mentioned in this episode:
Yiyun Li
Liu Xiaobo 
Jhumpa Lahiri
Confucius
Strange Beasts of China
Tilted Axis Press
State of Emergency
Yu char kway
Wittgenstein

Listen and Read:

Audio: Strange Beasts of Translation

Transcript: 4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation

4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski Novel Dialogue

In our season finale, Ann Goldstein, renowned translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, gives a master class in the art and business of translation. Ann speaks to Duke scholar Saskia Ziolkowski and host Aarthi Vadde about being the face of the Ferrante novels, and the curious void that she came to fill in the public imagination in light of Ferrante’s anonymity. In a profession long characterized by invisibility, Ann reflects on her own celebrity and the changing orthodoxies of the book business. Where once having a translator’s name on a book cover would be sure to kill interest, now there are movements to display author’s and translator’s names together. Ann reads an excerpt in Italian from Primo Levi’s The Truce, followed by her re-translation of the autobiographical story for The Complete Works of Primo Levi. She then offers an extraordinary walk through of her decision-making process by honing in on the difficulty of translating one key word “scomposti.” Listening to Ann delineate and discard choices, we are reminded of Italo Calvino’s assertion (echoed by Ann) that translation is indeed the closest way to read. This season’s signature question on “untranslatables” yields another brilliant meditation on word choice and the paradoxical task of arriving at precise approximations. Plus, Ann and Saskia reveal some of their favorite Italian women writers, several of whom Ann has brought into English for the first time. Mentions: –Elena Ferrante –Jennifer Croft –Primo Levi, The Periodic Table –Primo Levi, The Truce, from The Complete Works of Primo Levi –Stuart Woolf, original translator of Levi, If This is the Man –Catherine Gallagher, Nobody’s Story –Italo Calvino –Marina Jarre, Return to Latvia –Elsa Morante, Arturo’s Island –Emily Wilson, only female translator of The Odyssey –Jenny McPhee –Cesare Garboli Find out more about Novel Dialogue and its hosts and organizers here. Contact us, get that exact quote from a transcript, and explore many more conversations between novelists and critics. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
  1. 4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski
  2. 4.5a Novel Dialogue Bonus: Jean-Baptiste Naudy Reads from Claude McKay’s "Amiable with Big Teeth"
  3. 4.5 The Best Error You Can Make: Brent Hayes Edwards and Jean-Baptiste Naudy on Claude McKay
  4. 4.4 “A short, sharp punch to the face”: José Revueltas’ The Hole (El Apando) with Alia Trabucco Zerán and Sophie Hughes.
  5. 4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation: Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang in Conversation
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