True literature must first touch readership’s heart

Thứ tư - 01/11/2017 20:55
Year of birth: 1976
Place of birth: Thai Binh province
Living and working in Hanoi
Works: Translator Nguyen Bich Lan has translated 30 books into Vietnamese, including the novel Slumdog millionaire (by Vikas Swarup), which brought the translator the translation award of the Vietnam Writers’ Association.
Chernobyl Prayer (by Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich) is the latest book that Nguyen Bich Lan translated and was published by the Phu nu (Women’s) Publishing House in 2016.
Reporter: Nguyen Bich Lan, you’ve just debuted your latest translated work of the book “Chernobyl Prayer”, which is one of the literary works that brought the author the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. However, you probably chose to translate the book not just because of the prize and the author... There must be something more than that, yes?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: That’s right! “Chernobyl Prayer” could be considered a rare diary of a Belarusian about the environmental disaster of Chernobyl which has haunted the whole mankind. If a question about the most critical issues of the Vietnamese people popped up in our mind, the answer would surely include the problem of environment. In fact, I was translating this book when the Formosa environmental disaster occurred in the Central coastal region of Vietnam. I deeply understand the lessons learnt that Svetlana wishes to send the readership worldwide via the Chernobyl stories that she noted down truthfully with the conscience and responsibility of a journalist, a writer, and a Belarusian. I hope to contribute my humble part in bringing those lessons to the Vietnamese readership so as to help improve their responsibility for our living environment and environmental safety. True literature must first touch the heart of the readership. I, therefore, believe that the readership will gradually absorb the message of the book.

Reporter: Reading “Chernobyl Prayer”, I was deeply obsessed by the consequences of the nuclear disaster. Perhaps, the same thing happened to you while translating the book! What were your feelings when you first read the source-text version of the book?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: As I’ve said, I was translating the book when the Formosa environmental disaster occurred. I felt shocked, worried, and wanted so much that all people would know the truth. Above all these feelings, however, I was moved to the bottom of my heart and deeply sympathized with victims of the Chernobyl disaster, whether they were the wife of the deceased firefighter or the pets that were destroyed so as to reduce the risk of radiation or the houses buried under debris. As witnesses told, Chernobyl is the battle of all battles. Reading the book, I imaged in my mind a battle without gunfire, but it was so fierce, so destructive and full of pains, sorrows and mishaps that nothing could be compared and made up for. Right at the first time I read the book, I knew that I would be obsessed by it as long as I can remember.

Report: I could share these feelings with you. I believe that readers will feel the same, will also be obsessed by the stories told by Svetlana. Do you think that obsession is one of the things that a true literary work should aim at?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: If there is nothing lingering on in our mind after we finish a book, then that book is not very excellent and has yet to touch the heart of the readership. The obsession of a good literary work is the thing that leads readers to the good, the positive changes and the concern toward the issue that the work evokes. As a writer, I want my works, be they flash fictions or others, to be able to obsess readers in that fashion.

Reporter: Among various disasters that humankind has to endure, there are a lot of disasters caused by humans, of which nuclear disasters make up one example. Have you ever thought that the more humans get civilized and the more they seem to be “wiser”, the more disastrous consequences resulting from what they have done they have to face?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: I think it’s high time for the whole mankind to reconsider their way of development. It is clear that scientific and technological advances have contributed greatly to the development of mankind. However, studying from different angles, it can be seen that the more our society develops in that direction, the further we get away from and the less we get in harmony with the nature. A literary work like “Chernobyl Prayer” is a warning to everyone in this world: “Any miracle in scientific and technological development may result in disasters out of the ability to perceive and control of humankind.” I still remember what a Belarusian said to me when I was translating this book: “They (scientists) dared to stroke God’s beard. God smiled, but we were the one to pay the price.”

LOI NGUYEN CAUChernobyl Prayer is not only a literary, but also a historical and philosophical work. There have been no other works that better look into institutions, political systems and the ruling culture than this book. It is a sociological and psychological work as well. However, above all it is a literary work that won a Nobel Prize. Finishing reading the work, I deeply understand why Chernobyl Prayer could win a Nobel Prize. Each interview and each monologue in the book can be developed into a thesis on the fate of humankind. The book is really a ‘spiritual vaccine’ for us in this ever-changing, disastrous and uncertain society.”
Tran Hoai – Lecturer at the National Economic University
“I often think that pure and technical data cannot get nearer to the truth than an emotion, a rumor, or a vague image. Why do we have to repeat data? They conceal our emotions. The development of these emotions, the emotions that penetrate through data, is the thing that captures my attention. I have tried to find, collect and protect them.
Things that these people witnessed are still unknown to others. I find that it seems like I am noting down the future.”
Svetlana Alexievich

Reporter: Let’s come back to literature and the work that you’ve just translated. Is it true to think that life is more vivid and powerful than any fictions? Is it true that as life can reach the utmost of fiction, there’s no need to invent fictions any more or what’s really important is the techniques that writers employ to tell or recall notable stories in real life?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: Each individual has his/her own assessment of Svetlana's writing style and what she aims at. As for me, when reading and translating this work, I always kept it in my mind that the author is a journalist, a rare journalist that has the heart to discover the flow of emotions running deeply under the dull data, able and capable of preserving that flow, helping it overflow the data embankment to reach the readership as a literary work, capturing the heart of readers, triggering imagination and enriching the treasure of humanity in each reader.

Reporter: I am also a journalist. In my early days working with literature, some of my senior fellows told me that without care journalism writing style may spoil literary works. From my experience, I see that it is absolutely possible. As for Svetlana (and some others), however, the skills of a journalist has led her to treasures lying deep down in the heart of literature. What is your view on the connection between journalism and literature?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: If it hadn’t been for years of working as an investigation journalist, Svetlana could not have produced a literary work that helped her win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Yet an even greater prize is that readers around the world are searching for her works. The question is “Is it due to the increasing interest of the readership in non-fiction literature that an author like Svetlana is well-known or is it the writers themselves that have made non-fiction literature more attractive to readers? I myself tend to fall for the latter. I believe that what a writer experiences in real life contributes positively to him/her rather than eroding his/her creativity.

Reporter: Apart from “Chernobyl Prayer”, have you read any other works by Svetlana? What do you think about Svetlana’s choice of non-fiction literature?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: After “Chernobyl Prayer”, I not only have read, but also will continue to translate two other works of Svetlana. One of the works is “Zinky Boys”, which is also an excellent piece compared to “Chernobyl Prayer.” I have also read some of her works in English and I find them really convincing. I believe that she was born for non-fiction literature or it is just that she made the right choice of what she can do her utmost. I admire and respect her for being a Belarusian patriot, deeply in love with her country even when in pains as well as for being a journalist and a writer of responsibility and respect for truth.

Reporter: “Non-fiction” is a word much touted recently and is readily honored with the most prestigious literary award. As a translator, you must closely follow the world literature. What is your opinion? What is the literary value of non-fiction works?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: Life is ever-changing. So is the Nobel Prize. In my opinion, the Nobel Prize in Literature tends to be awarded to any author of art works that contain literary values deserved to be honored, such as non-fiction works and songs’ lyrics, etc. As for the Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to Svetlana Alexievich, I found it completely convincing. The literary value of the “Chernobyl Prayer” monologues is convincing enough for its author to bring home the most prestigious literary award. I am more convinced now as I am reading more of her works.

Reporter: You’ve translated up to 30 books. To a humble extent, each translated book when finished can be compared to a just-completed exercise. Are there any principles or so that you’d considered right then found them not exactly the same or even not right after a period of time of work and practical experience?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: What I often learn from a translated work a year after it was finished is that efforts, prudence and seriousness are never more than enough for a translator when translating a literary work. Though having translated 30 books, I still find I am not proud and experienced enough to say that “I can translate this or that book easily!” I always find some mistakes or words/phrases that I may have better translated if I had been more clear-sighted at the time I translated them and spent more time thinking deeply over them.

Reporter: What about writing? Is writing what’s left besides your translation? How is your writing?

Translator Nguyen Bich Lan: Each year I translate three or four works. Therefore, I have little time left. I make use of these short intervals to write short stories and flash fictions. I regular have my “little works” printed on newspapers. I want to make best use of my creativity in bringing useful cultural products to readers.

Reporter: Thank you for sharing with us! We hope to read your new translated-works soon.

(Translated by HUU DUONG)

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