a concise chinese english dictionary for lovers

  • Guernica: How did you come to start writing in English? How do you decide which language to work in on a given project?
  • Xiaolu Guo: It’s not a choice. Either I write or I don’t, especially when I’m in a foreign culture. I’ve lived in London for years, and I must continue my writing and filmmaking. The most important thing for an artist or an author is to continue her work. Languages and settings are the tools but not the first thing.
  • Guernica: I’d say it still takes a significant amount of effort to write in a language that isn’t your mother tongue, no matter how strong the drive to create. Was there really no part of the move to publish six original works in English that happened on a conscious level?
  • Xiaolu Guo: When I came to the U.K. ten years ago, everyone told me I couldn’t send my books directly to publishing houses—that I had to go through a literary agent. So I did, and then I found out the agents couldn’t provide a translator or read my Chinese. There was—there still is—a big shortage of good Chinese-English literary translators. So for two years in London, I was stuck waiting, not writing, with several Chinese books I couldn’t get translated.
  • That’s when I decided to write in English, since I had been living here and had decided to reconstruct my life here. Even if I wrote in broken English, it was better than getting bored and weary and bitter on the long queue of authors waiting to be translated by a stranger. That decision was really liberating; I managed to find some [viable] ways to approach the foreign language in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. It was written as a linguistic exercise and was an awakening for me in terms of using ‘other’ ways to create literature.

anonymous asked:

i'm contemplating a move to china and am wondering if you can recommend any chinese fiction to get me in the spirit? maybe something to immerse me in chinese mythology and culture in the way murakami taught me about japanese mysticism?

Emily recommends The Visiting Suit and The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao.

But we decided to bring out the big guns on this one as well. We have consulted with resident expert/manager emeritus Stephanie on this one, and here’s what she says:

I’d recommend Journey to the West by Wu Chengen as a great starting point for understanding Chinese mythology and culture. It is one of the great Chinese classics and it is an amazing story involving several elements of Chinese mythology, Buddhism, and Taoism. It’s a long story, and has been adapted for TV and movies several times, so that may be an easier place to start. Although it’s hundreds of years old, it’s still staged and read all over the country frequently. If you’re not feeling up to the whole thing, recent National Book Award-winner American Born Chinese uses the story as a framing device (quite well) and will give you the gist of it. For a slightly more modern classic, I’d recommend The True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun. It was one of the first important novels (technically a novella) published in the modern era. It has little in the way of mythology, but is important for understanding Chinese society pre-Revolution. For very modern works, Greywolf Press recently published a collection of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s work called June Fourth Elegies. I highly recommend it to anybody, but especially if you are considering a move to China. It’s good to have an understanding of the current regime’s uneasy relationship with artists and writers—something many Americans overlook in light of our improved economic relationship with the country. In general, China has an incredible history of poetry which is a great way to learn more about the history of Chinese writing. You can find many of these poems online because they are long in the public domain. In Chinese class, many students (myself included) learn Li Bai’s poem “Drinking Alone by Moonlight,” because it is tradition in China for students to memorize many classic poems. Here’s a cool project from LibriVox where many people recorded themselves reading it! Another basic one to learn is “Quiet Night Thought.” One of my favorite contemporary Chinese novelists is Xiaolu Guo. She is an incredible writer! I would especially recommend A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers and Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth. Some of her work has been translated into English by Howard Goldblatt, who is a very active translator of Chinese fiction into English. (He has also translated Mo Yan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and who would also be a great recommendation for you.) I really like his translations and would say you can’t go wrong looking at a list of them to find a novel that speaks to you.

‘Love’, this English word: like other English words it has tense. 'Loved’ or 'will love’ or 'have loved’. All these specific tenses mean Love is time-limited thing. Not infinite. It only exist in particular period of time. In Chinese, Love is '爱’ (ai). It has no tense. No past and future. Love in Chinese means a being, a situation, a circumstance. Love is existence, holding past and future.

If our love existed in Chinese tense, then it will last for ever. It will be infinite.

—  A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Guo Xiaolu
The life in the past and the life at the present are very different. When I first met you, I remember you always talked and smiled. You talked about interesting things in an interesting way, and you had a charming language. You used beautiful words, funny words, sexy words, electric words, noble words. Your language was as attractive as you. But what happened? It has changed. After all these fightings, all these miseries, you don’t talk as the way you did before. You just listen; listen to my words; then stop listening and think of your own world. But I can’t stop talking. I talk and talk, more and more. I steal your words. I steal all your beautiful words. I speak your language. You have given up your words, just like you gave up listening. All you do is sleep, more and more sleep.
—  Xiaolu Guo, A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers, “electric”