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250 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997© 1997 by University ofHawai'i Press Shen Congwen. Imperfect Paradise: Stories by Shen Congwen. Edited by Jeffrey Kinkley. Translated by Jeffrey Kinkley (and others). Fiction from Modern China. Honolulu: University ofHawai'i Press, 1995. ix, 537 pp. Hardcover $42.00, isbn 0-8248-1635-8. Paperback $19.95, isbn 0-82481715 -x. Jeffrey Kinkley's earlier study of the modern Chinese writer Shen Congwen, The Odyssey ofShen Congwen, was published in die late 1980s and has since become required reading for students ofmodern Chinese history and literature. While affecting the ways in which Shen Congwen is read, taught, and canonized in the field of Chinese literature, that book also inaugurated a greater pedagogical need for better and, perhaps, more broadly representative English translations of Shen's works than anything that had thus far been attempted. This is the void that the present coUection, edited by Kinkley himself, is designed to ful, and it does so splendidly. The book, long overdue, is part of a weU-known translation series published by the University of Hawai'i Press, with Howard Goldblatt as its general editor. Shen Congwen is a most difficult writer to translate. His stories often seem simple and transparent but the language can be highly elusive. A reader might claim to have grasped the meaning ofa particular story but miss the entire show nonetheless. Shen's onetime student Wang Zengqi and the roots-seeking writer A Cheng, who openly acknowledge how Shen has shaped their respective writing careers , have more or less faUen victim to the misperception just alluded to ofwhat makes a literary work truly special. Like Shen Congwen, both Wang Zengqi and A Cheng are good storyteUers, but fheir language is so elusive and so deceptively transparent that when rendered into English their work tends to scale down to the ordinary. Indeed, once stripped ofits "literariness" or hard-won poetry, the story becomes no more than a story. The relative anonymity ofWang Zengqi and, to some degree, A Cheng in the English-speaking world proves the point. Indeed, the difficulty in appreciating and rendering what one might caU the "belleslettres " strain ofmodern Chinese fiction, wifh Lu Xun standing at the head of the genealogy and Shen Congwen probably at fhe peak ofits achievement in the Republican era, derives partly from their characteristic mixing of classical, modern, and regional lexicon and more particularly from the subtie rhythm (visual and aural) of their prose, which self-consciously removes itself from what now seems to be the famüiar stylistic terrain of a highly Europeanized and Japanized Chinese language. I believe this is what the editor means when he speaks of an odd paradox : "Shen Congwen's language most fully marks his legacy as 'Chinese'" (p. 4). Reviews 251 The editor and translators ofImperfectParadisehave mounted a heroic effort in trying to overcome this difficulty and bridge fhe enormous gap between Shen's stylistic experiment in Chinese and its possible or impossible counterpart in modern English prose. These efforts are rewarding and largely successful. For example, Caroline Mason's rendering ofa story caUed "Meijin, Baozi, and the White Kid" captures the rhythm ofShen's lyricism thus: Describe to one who has never known the taste of our pears from Pear Market Village the sweetness ofsongs sung by girls ofthe White-Faced Miao tribe, and you would be wasting your breath. Some people think the sound of sweeping oars beautiful. Others find beauty in die sound ofthe wind and the rain. Nor is there any dearth ofsimpletons who find it in a baby's cries at night or the sound of reeds as they whisper their dreams into the breeze. AU these are poetry . ... (p. 83) The aural effect ofwhat might be loosely called aUiteration and the iambic rhythm of this passage correspond remarkably to what I hear, figuratively speaking , in the original language. More remarkable is the fact that here the narrator is describing the sound ofpoetry in a language ofpoetry, and this is duly rendered into a lyrical flow of sound in the English translation. Moments like fhis are many and extremely rewarding. Of course, one cannot expect things to be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 250-252
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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