Saturday, May 30, 2020

"A Dream of Red Mansion" tr. Gladys Yang: Book Review

A Dream of Red Mansion: Complete and Unexpurgated by Cao ...

Amazon jumbles many "classic" texts and editions, but if this is the "A Dream of Red Mansion: Complete + Unexpurgated," Gladys Yang gets translation credit. She was English, the first undergrad to read Chinese at Oxford, and with her husband Yang Xianyi went to settle in his homeland in 1940.

They worked for the Foreign Languages Press as translators, and although the subtitle says such for Dream, spot-checking the Amazon preview of this vs. the Hawkes-Minford "The Story of the Stone" version shows that the "Dream" does expurgate, say "Carnal Street" as a phrase and that Yang cuts some phrases and slight details kept by Hawkes from my comparison as part 1 commences. I have heard that the translators for the FLP had to watch themselves under the PRC, that the pair suffered 4 years in jail during the Cultural Revolution and that their "rehabilitation" involved this "Dream" work. But they then fell into disfavor again after speaking out against the suppression by the regime of demonstrators in 1989. She died at the age of 80 ten years later. Her biography is still forbidden in the PRC.

My comments here are to guide potential customers as it's confusing to sift through the various formats and translations. Yang's is better than the public-domain Henry Bencraft Joly found in inexpensive Kindle versions, which cut far more of the novel. HBJ died after only completing the first half, note. His Victorian style and Yang's formal register remain a bit less fluid than the Penguin. Yang's not bad, however, from a mid-20c. origin. There is an elegance in the diction which endures regardless of the choice. The es-pat pair also has their "The Scholars" from FLP (1957) which may be the only English-language rendering of that minor classic.

Three stars for "Dream" as while the bargain cost is welcome contrasted to the Penguin, you get what you pay for. No notes, from the sample at least, tied to the text. For a novel this "foreign" to Westerners, this (so I've been told) somewhat more literal rendition may make this more a crib-text or handy comparison in online form to the Penguin five-volume paperback. Plus there's not even an introduction in this format.

On a final note, I admit the cover is fantastic. It does capture the Maoist "repackaging" of this evocative tale of a very different Chinese era. (This is more a clarification for Amazon US than a proper review. This site fills you in about a narrative over twice as long as "War + Peace," which some claim is the best ever Chinese, or along with the Japanese "Tale of Genji" maybe the best fictional achievement of all time. Certainly akin to Proust even more than Tolstoy in its milieu.)

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