riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
The first line of Finnegans Wake, above, doesn’t exactly set it up to be a blockbuster. In this one morsel, the book starts uncapitalized, references obscure Irish locales, and says “commodius vicus.” The second line begins, “Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica,” and I cannot will myself to quote any further.
Nevertheless, the Chinese translation of Joyce’s bizarre classic has become an unexpected hit, selling out its first run of publication in just five weeks. The book is now No. 2 on Shanghai’s “good books” list, topped only by a new biography of Deng Xiaoping.
Dai Congrong spent eight years translating Finnegans Wake into Chinese, which sounds like a long time for just a translation, but keep in mind that the German version took 19 years, and the French version took thirty.
Reuters interviewed Dai about the book:
“It was dull and depressing during the first two years,” the 41-year-old literature professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University told Reuters. “I was also starting to have doubts about the project because I’d spent two years on the book but not a single word was translated.”
[…] Joyce’s frequent use of made-up words sent her poring over multiple versions of English dictionaries, making notes on every page of the book.
[…] “I have to take care of my young son. What’s more, my family – especially my husband – didn’t support the project,” Dai said.
“He thought that despite the time and energy I needed to put into it, it would not make much money because the book is too difficult for an average person.”
Family be damned, this is important work! Dai’s promises that the translation will be just as frustrating and dense as the original, saying, “I would not be faithful to the original intent of the novel if my translation made it easy to comprehend.”
With that in mind, please enjoy another excerpt from the English version of Finnegans Wake:
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy.
How Dai could translate any of the above is a miracle, considering the 100-letter word-vomit in the middle and the other words aren’t exactly the pinnacle of clarity. If anyone has read the Chinese version of Finnegans Wake
they probably don’t read this website please comment below, your input word-vomit is particularly appreciated.