Chinese Translation of Finnegans Wake Becomes Best Seller

A Chinese translation of James Joyce’s classic Finnegans Wake has become a best seller in China.

The translation, which was nine years in the making, took just over a month to sell out all 8,000 copies of its original print run.

James Joyce’s original English language book was originally published in 1939 and is renowned for its experimental style and is widely regarded as being one of the most difficult pieces of literature to comprehend in the English language.

One of the reasons why the translation took so long was because the original translator, Dai Congrong, had difficulty in keeping the piece as complex as the original. According to the Associated Press, Dai Congrong stated: “I would not be faithful to the original intent of the novel if my translation made it easy to comprehend.”

The work of fiction often splits critics for its stream of consciousness prose style.

Helped by a billboard marketing campaign, the Chinese translation of Finnegans Wake has become a surprise hit – more popular than Ian McEwan’s Atonement (which sold 5,000 copies).

However, Dai Congrong does admit that some aspects of her translation are simplified over the original. For instance, Chinese has an ordered, simpler sentence structure. This contrasts with Joyce’s long structures so Dai made several changes. “The things I lost are mostly the sentences because Joyce’s sentences are so different from common sentences; So my translations is more clear than the original book”.

Additionally, she also had to contend with Joyce’s phraseology: “For example, there was a phrase in Finnegans Wake that said “sputtering hand”, which might mean shaky. If I translated it as “shaky hand”, that would be OK” However, I just translated it as “sputtering hand”. Sputtering and hand cannot be put together in Chinese grammar”

The success of Finnegans Wake highlights the growing relationship between the Chinese and English languages. Historically, through links with Hong Kong, Cantonese spread widely through the Anglophonic world. Thanks to China’s more lenient foreign policy, Mandarin is increasingly becoming heard overseas and, as the official language of China, becoming more prominent in international business and commercial matters.

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