16 March 2009

Translation Exercise: "Wolf Totem" (1)

Classes are over and I'm starving for something to do. I've been translating pretty much anything I can get my hands on, just for the practice, but unfortunately most of the English language literature I have is itself a translation -- either from Russian or Chinese or Japanese -- or is written in post-modern vernacular and is almost impossible to render in another language.

A few weeks ago, I tried to translate a few paragraphs of "Wolf Totem", a famous modern Chinese model by Jiang Rong. Here's the broken-Japanese result:


神なるオオカミ (Wolf Totem・狼图腾)





注: 陳陣=チェン・ジェン



Source text: Wolf Totem (狼图腾) by Jiang Rong (姜戎)

Having Bilgee beside him was comforting. Chen rubbed his eyes to clear away the mist and blinked calmly at Bilgee, then raised his telescope again to watch the gazelles and the wolves.

Since his earlier encounter with the wolves, he had come to understand that the inhabitants of the grassland, the nomads, were never far from being surrounded by wolves. Nearly every night he spotted ghostly wolf outlines, especially during the frigid winter; two or three, perhaps five or six, and as many as many as ten pairs of glittering green eyes moving around the perimeter of the grazing land, as far as a hundred li or more distant. One night he and Bilgee’s daughter-in-law Gasmai, aided by flashlights, counted twenty-five of them.

Like guerrilla fighters, nomads strive for simplicity. During the winter, sheep pens are semicircles formed by wagons and mobile fencing, with large felt rugs that serve as a windbreak but cannot keep out the wolves. The wide southern openings are guarded by packs of dogs and women on watch shifts. From time to time, wolves break into the pens and fight the dogs. Bodies often thud into yurt walls, waking people on the other side; twice that had happened to Chen Zhen, and all that had kept a wolf from landing beside him was that wall. Frequently, nomads are separated from wolves by no more than a couple of felt rugs.


Japanese novels are generally written in present tense, while English novels are frequently written in past tense. In Japanese, when talking about hearsay or a character’s past experiences, is past tense appropriate?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I say if it's written in past tense, I say translate it in past tense. If the story is written a certain way, why change it just because the locals write a certain way. Especially since writing stories in the past tense is perfectly acceptable in Japanese.

Check your email for more.