Best translation – Chengdu Bookworm event

In June 2014, we ran a series of collaborative translation events in China and in the UK. Our events invite small bilingual groups to translate a text English to Chinese or Chinese to English, and are organised on a competitive basis, with two kinds of prizes – one for speed, and one for quality. We announce a winner for the most characters translated on the spot, but quality takes more time to judge.

This translation comes from a Chengdu team, consisting of Grace Luo, Yi Wong, 孔垂, Paola Campanelli and Dorothy Yang. They translated a piece by Melbourne writer Philip Thiel about Nanjing, into Mandarin. In this opening paragraph, the author explores the Avant-Garde, China’s largest independent bookstore. This is an Australian look at literary China, brought back to the Chinese language through one of our events.

“这边”朱利安带我走上水泥坡道。我们朝书店走去,先锋书店几个大字闪闪发光,下面还配着法语 Librairie Avant-Garde。“它看起来像个停车场”朱利安说它曾经是。被书布置过后的隧道,地上的路线与箭头依然清晰可见,同时还有个发光的十字架,看起来是那样的格格不入。我随意地挑了本济慈的书。“他们真的会读济慈吗?”我问,但朱利安没听见,因为他已经走到了读书区,那里人们正坐在扶手椅上沉浸在书香中。这是我在南京的第一天,但我已经窥见了一座文学城市。

“Down here,” said Julien, stepping onto a concrete ramp. We descended toward immense Chinese characters glowing above a French translation: Librairie Avant-Garde – the Avant Garde Bookstore. “It looks like a carpark,” I said. “It once was,” Julien replied. Inside, books decorated tunnels still marked with lanes and arrows; also, incongruously, an illuminated cross. I picked a book at random: a translation of Keats. “They read him here?” I asked, but Julien had wandered out of earshot toward an area where people sat in armchairs reading to themselves. It was my first night in Nanjing, but I already saw a literary city.”

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