Prize Recognises Translator's Role

Photo of Culture Trip
13 October 2016

The Man Asian Literary Prize is one of few major literary awards that acknowledges the work of the translator. As part of The Culture Trip’s coverage of the 2011 prize, we take a look at Howard Goldblatt, translator of three of the last four Man Asian winners.

The translator’s task is a tricky one: how does one remain ‘true’ to the original text while acknowledging the nuances of a new audience with a whole set of unique cultural markers?

While translation has often been considered a thankless task, some have stepped out of the shadows of authors. The names of translators such as Gregory Rabassa and Jay Rubin are closely linked to the authors with whom they have worked, Gabriel García Marquez and Haruki Murakami respectively. In a much-cited anecdote, Marquez considered Rabassa’s English translation of One Hundred Years Of Solitude to be better than the original.

Howard Goldblatt’s name inevitably arises when talking about Chinese literature in translation. Not only has he translated three of the past four Man Asian Literary Prize winners (Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, Boat To Redemption by Su Tong, and Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu, with Silvia Li-chun Lin) but also he has worked extensively with well-known Chinese authors like Mo Yan. In an interview with the East-Asian literary journal FullTilt , Goldblatt expounded on the role of the translator as one who has an intimate knowledge of both the work and the context in which the work will be translated.

Goldblatt is a translator who wears many hats. He not only translates, but is involved in the process of editing, streamlining, and selecting of books for English-speaking audiences. Many of the Chinese writers that have come to the attention of English-speaking audiences have risen to prominence through Goldblatt’s translations.

With the relative paucity of foreign-language works translated into English, especially from China, translators like Goldblatt play an important role as arbiters of taste. The Man Asian Literary Prize is one of a handful of literary awards that recognises this mediating role of the translator.

For more of The Culture Trip’s coverage of the Man Asian Prize:

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