We were very lucky to have poet, short story writer and novelist Han Dong come and visit us in April, alongside his translator Nicky Harman. The event was organised in conjunction with International Writers at Leeds, a project run through the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds, inviting internationally-renowned writers to speak about their work.
Han Dong is perhaps most famous as one of China’s foremost avant-garde poets, so we began the event with a reading and discussion of some of his poems, translated by Nicky and collected in the bilingual volume, A Phonecall from Dalian, published by Zephyr Press. .
This was followed by a reading from a recent novella, 花花传奇, translated by Nicky as A Tabby Cat’s Tale, and published by Frisch and Co. The incontinent, flea-ridden feline of the title lives on the narrator’s roof, and whilst he causes chaos for the family and their neighbours, the more his anti-social behaviour worsens, the greater the family’s affection for him grows. (There’s a lovely review of the novella here).
Much of the discussion following the readings focused on Han Dong’s dual writing careers in poetry and prose. When asked how he juggled the two, he explained that he tends to concentrate on either one or the other for an extended period of time – whilst working on a novel or a book of poetry – and then move to the other once he has finished that piece of work.
There were also several questions for both writer and translator on the process of translation, and how well they worked together (very well, according to both!). Nicky discussed some of the decisions she had made when translating the poems, and retaining their down-to-earth feel, as well as the novella, with its comedic, earthy tone. One of the things she mentioned was the name of the eponymous cat – ‘Hua Hua’ (花花), in Chinese, which might perhaps translate along the lines of ‘Spotty’, but which she simply couldn’t resist translating as ‘Tabby’, especially given the alliteration which it would allow in the title.
To find out more about Han Dong, and read some of his poems, you can go to our book club page.