Last Thursday we were lucky enough to welcome author Diao Dou 刁斗 to Leeds, along with Sam Clark and Ra Page from Comma Press. Comma are a Manchester-based publisher, and loyal champions both of the short story form and of literature in translation. They have just published the first English translation (by Brendan O’Kane) of Diao Dou’s short fiction – the fantastic Points of Origin. In this collection, a town is overrun with cockroaches, which prove more than a match for the local officials; a widower and his cat move into the city, but the cat is not all that she seems; and in the story we’ve chosen for our October book club, a law is passed that only lets people walk the streets at night if they maintain a squatting position at all times…
Diao Dou read an excerpt of one of the stories ,’Vivisection’. This story presented something which is often dealt with in contemporary Chinese fiction – the Cultural Revolution – in a slightly off-kilter way, providing a good example of how his stories mix the realistic and the surreal.
We were then given a fascinating insight into the translation process through a video with translator Brendan O’Kane, who talked about some of the challenges of translating these stories, and of how to convey some of the trickier points of Chinese idiom and shared knowledge (preferably without using footnotes – an issue which has come up in several of our discussions throughout this project!).
You can watch the full video here;
Following on from Brendan’s video was a Q&A between Diao Dou and Comma Press’s Sam Clark, covering issues such as genre, symbolism, and surrealism. (The stories in Points of Origin span realism, surrealism, historical fiction, and fantasy.)
We’d like to thank Comma for their support, and thank you as well to our interpreter John Long.