I did in fact get around to reading the new English translation of Jin Yong’s extremely famous novel Shè Diāo Yīngxióng Zhuàn. It is the first novel I ever read in Chinese, and that would be reason enough for it to be a very special book to me.
In particular, I strongly associate this book with downtown Taoyuan after dark. Since I had never read a novel in Chinese before, and my Chinese was much worse back then than it is now, I had to focus hard to read this book. However, I had trouble focusing when I was in my tàofáng (studio apartment) because I was easily distracted, especially by my computer. Thus, I had to physically separate myself from my tàofáng (especially my computer) to pay more attention to reading. Over time, I figured out where the best places for me to read books in downtown Taoyuan were, but at this point I was still exploring and figuring it out, so I ended up going to various places to see whether or not they were conductive to reading. If you are not familiar with downtown Taoyuan, you may watch this video and try to imagine finding a place to read a book so that you can find out what happens to characters (hint: those shopping malls have food courts, and food courts have quiet corners). And after I finished my reading session, I would walk in the streets of Taoyuan again to return to my tàofáng, thinking about what I had just read. I finally figured out that the best place to read was in the parks or park-like areas, but only in daylight hours, and that evening hours were better spent on the computer, so I did not read so much of other novels in the evening. This is how I came to associate this novel with wandering around downtown Taoyuan, especially in the evening.
By the way, I associate the second book in the trilogy with Taipei because I read some key scenes while I was in Taipei, and the third book in the trilogy with Kaohsiung, because I was reading it during my very first trip to Kaohsiung, and I recall looking into the streets and alleys of Kaohsiung when I needed a break after reading some very emotional scenes.
Ahem, this does not have anything to do with the English translation, my mind is clearly wandering. It did give me a warm feeling when I discovered that the translator, Anna Holmwood, first came to know the Condor Trilogy books in Taipei. Taipei is close to Taoyuan, and I bought my (Chinese language) copy of Shè Diāo Yīngxióng Zhuàn in Taipei.
I thought it might be weird to read this book in English instead of Chinese, but I got used to everything being in English very fast.
I’ve mentioned this translation before in this post. I still think it was a mistake to translate personal names into English, and at first I would mentally groan at names such as ‘Skyfury Guo’. However, I became adept at translating the characters’ names back into Chinese (his name is Guō Xiàotiān, thank you) so the weird English names stopped grating on me.
The translator says in the notes that she made Huang Rong’s name ‘Lotus’ because “at this point in the story we the readers are let in on a secret that Guo Jing is not party to. As soon as we see her name written down, we known at once that this “beggar boy” is, in fact, a girl – the cahracter for “lotus”, “rong” 蓉 is far too girly to be used for a boy’s name.” I think this is a bad reason. When I first read Shè Diāo Yīngxióng Zhuàn, because my Chinese skill level was barely good enough to read this book, I had no idea that 蓉 is a girly name, but I still figured out that Huang Rong is probably a girl because of the other hints (and if even a reader who is struggling to understand Chinese can figure out that Huang Rong is a girl, that indicates that Guo Jing is really, really bad at picking up clues). Furthermore, I don’t think ‘Lotus’ is necessarily a girly name in English, and I would especially not assume that ‘Lotus’ is a female name if I knew little of Chinese culture – how would I know that Chinese culture associates flowers with femininity? I can think of various other ways the translator could have handled this particular passage while keeping the name Huang Rong (or Wong Yung, if the translator had chosen to use Cantonese names).
Anyway, enough of that. Aside from the issue with the characters names, I was generally pleased with this translation. It is very good, or at least better than any translation I could produce. It does not convey all nuances of the original, probably because that is impossible, and I do not blame the translator. In particular, Holmwood’s prose is not nearly as good as Jin Yong’s prose, but there are very few people who can write prose as well as Jin Yong.
I do not think I will read further volumes of this English translation, but that is only because I can continue (re-)reading in Chinese instead, which is better.
But most of all – it is a pleasure to read this novel again, whatever the language. There were details I had never noticed before (though that is partially because this translation is based on the third edition, which I have not read before), and some of those details were delightful as someone returning to this story once again. For example, I never noticed before that Qu San’s daughter appears in the first chapter. She seems like a throwaway character, and most first-time readers probably won’t pay much attention to her, but ~I~ know what she does later in the story, heh heh. She is definitely a Chekhov’s Gunman (and a Chekhov’s Boomerang).
Reading this again leads me to feel that most of the fiction I read these days is
trash of lower quality. I honestly think the novels of Jin Yong are more likely to be widely read classics 500 years in the future than any English language novels from the 20th century – yes, ANY of them. When I was reading the novel, I generally was not thinking ‘so this is the novel in English’ because I was swept up in the story all over again.
I’m not going to say ‘EVERYBODY, READ THIS NOVEL ALREADY!!!’ because some people aren’t interested in reading novels, and some people have specific issues (for example, someone who wants to avoid reading fiction with lots of violence will not want to read this book). However, if you generally like reading novels, and you do not have a particular reason to stay away from this novel, I highly recommend you take advantage of this English translation and read it (if you can read Chinese you’ve already read it of course, right, RIGHT?) After all, it is a novel which has been read by hundreds of millions, perhaps even a billion people. Aren’t you curious why this novel is so popular? (Caveat: this is only the first fourth of the novel, and does not showcase the novel at its best – it gets better deeper into the story. If I had read only this part of the novel, and not the full thing, I don’t know that the story would have left much of an impression on me).
Unfortunately, this English translation is not currently available through USA book distributors. That means that people in the USA have to get it by a) buying from Amazon or b) buying from the UK (and paying international shipping) or c) buying from one of the very few bookstores in the USA which deals with UK book distributors (and paying domestic shipping). I went with option (c) (via the website Abebooks) because I try to avoid buying books from Amazon, but I have to admit that for readers in the USA, Amazon is by far the most practical option. It is also possible to suggest that libraries in the USA pick up this title, though since it is not available through USA book distributors, libraries in the USA may be reluctant to acquire it.