Finnegan’s Wake, a novel by James Joyce, is considered one of the most difficult literary works in the English language. People find it difficult to read for a myriad of reasons, including a straying plot, idiosyncratic language, and strange portmanteaus. Some critics believe Joyce’s unique style for the work is supposed to imitate sleep and a dream-like state. Despite the difficulties to even read the work in its original language, a dedicated translator has completed a Chinese translation, and it will be available this month. Dai Congrong will release the translation of the first of five volumes through Shanghai People’s Publishing House.
Dai Offers Multiple Interpretations
Dai, an experienced Chinese translator, explained that she knew it would be an extremely difficult translation from the beginning, but that she also wanted to give Chinese people the opportunity to read such an incredible piece of literature. The translation took a full ten years, which is only seven years less than the length of time it took Joyce to write the original. At a seminar, Dai explained that she directly translated approximately half of the book, but offers multiple translations and footnotes for the other half. She hopes that these alternative options for translation will give readers a more open understanding instead of relying solely on Dai’s interpretation. For a book that Joyce said would take readers 300 years to understand, much is up to interpretation. The translation was in part so difficult because of the large number of portmanteaus. Joyce combined many words in the piece to make one new word, which cannot be found in any dictionary, or even in any other piece of literature. Dai had to dissect these portmanteaus one by one.
The Chinese Translation was Completed Faster than Others
Though ten years sounds like a long time to work on a single volume of a book series, Dai actually completed the translation in record time. The French translation of the complex fictional work took thirty years, and the German translation took nineteen. All things considered, Dai was actually speedy in her decade-long project.
Sometimes, sharing outstanding pieces of literature between two different cultures is difficult because the translation is daunting. Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is certainly one of those daunting pieces. Luckily, there are dedicated professional translators like Dai all over the world willing to dedicate years of their life to better the cultural understanding of their society.