Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Housemaid's Daughter in Chinese

Yes, it's really happened!

I have in my hand the Chinese version of The Housemaid's Daughter - and very pretty it is, too, with a stormy grey sky above grassy plains, and an etching of 2 blossoms to the left of the title.

It is, I have to admit, a disconcertingly slim book: a lightweight at only 348 pages. The standard copy in English has been about 400 pages, and you will remember my astonishment at receiving the hefty Icelandic version, coming in at a good 40 pages longer than that. So, clearly, the beautiful symbols that I see on each page are particularly adept at conveying the story in a rather efficient way. I wish I could deconstruct a phrase or two! But this is a unique way of writing - drawing? - language. For fun, here are the opening lines of the book in various translations (apologies, Blogger does not appear to allow the appropriate speech marks/accents):

I wasn't supposed to be born in Cradock House. Not me.
Je n'etais pas censee naitre entre les murs de Cradock House. Ce n'etait pas ma place. (French)
Non era previsto che nascessi a Cradock House. Non io. (Italian)
Eg atti ekki ad faedast i Cradock House. Ekki eg (Icelandic)

From what I can tell, there is no glossary at the back of the book, so Chinese readers will have to use their imagination for some of the African words - but perhaps the translator has simply rendered them into a local equivalent that will be readily understood? (Saving space as well)
To my delight, a couple have sneaked through, though:
Ada's mother, Miriam, still sings her lullaby to Ada at night, as in the original.
Thula thu' thula bhabha. Hush, hush, little baby.
There are some things that don't need translation...

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