Translating Sorrow: An Interview with Michael Berry

Michael Berry, translator of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang AnyiWe know it must seem like we’re posting a lot about The Song of Everlasting Sorrow but we’re not the only ones excited about the book: Francine Prose praised the book in the New York Times Book Review and PRI’s The World just posted an interview with Michael Berry, the novel’s translator.

You can read the entire interview and below is an excerpt:

The World: For Western readers unfamiliar with Wang Anyi discuss her place in modern Chinese fiction.

Michael Berry: Wang Anyi is generally regarded as the best living female writer in China and, in the eyes of many critics, the best contemporary writer in China. She has been honored with every major literary award in her homeland, including the prestigious Mao Dun Prize.

At the same time, she is not the kind of writer embraced by the academy but shunned by the market. Quite the contrary, her fiction has been popular among several generations of readers, from the late seventies to the present. Over the years, her works have been widely adapted for stage, television, and film and she has continually stylistically reinvented herself, from “scar literature” to tales of sexual liberation and from avant-garde experiments to postmodern portraits of contemporary Shanghai.

The World: The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is considered a classic in contemporary Chinese fiction, which is as good a reason as any to have it translated into English. But why publish it now? Does the novel tell us anything we need to know about China today?

Berry: Song is a wonderful entry point into the world of contemporary Chinese literature, but it does much more than simply tell the reader things they “need to know about China.” I think the book tells us things we need to know about the human condition, about relationships, desire, our dreams vs. the everyday, and the weight of time and history on the individual. The novel may be set in China, but this is truly one of the masterpieces of world literature (at least the original is, I can’t speak for the translation!) and really speaks to much larger themes.

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