Sunday, January 07, 2007


Eileen Chang

The NYRB published the English translation of some of Eileen Chang's works recently. The collection, Love in a Fallen City, makes available for the first time, her Chinese works to the English readership.

As far as I know, the only other Eileen Chang books available to English readers are the three anti-Communist propaganda novels written by Chang in English, The Rice Sprout Song and Naked Earth, and The Rouge of the North.

A passionate, complicated woman, Eileen Chang was known as something of an eccentric in her time. She grew more reclusive in her latter years, and was found in her Los Angeles apartment after being dead for some time. But she is still regarded as one of the grand dame of modern Chinese Literature today. It is a pity that she is so little known outside of the Chinese readership. And kudos to NYRB for publishing this collection. Love in a Fallen City is gaining good publicity through the blogsphere, and I find it encouraging. I would like to see more people reading Eileen Chang than some other writers that I will not name here.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine was sweet enough to send me something by Eileen Chang that she found struck a chord. I'm not a professional translator, so I shall try not to butcher the original prose too much.

The story is entitled "Love" - it tells of a pretty young girl who was standing at a door one day. The young man next door saw her; he had never spoken to her before. He approaches, and he just said to her, "Oh, you are here too?" She said nothing, and he had nothing more to say. They stood still for a while, and then they went their ways.

And that was it.

Later the pretty young girl was sold as a bride faraway from her home village. She was later resold several times. She suffered through the years. When she was old, she often recalls that moment, at the door, under the tree, with the young man.

Among the thousands of people that crossed in our lives, across the wilderness of time, we meet someone. Not earlier. Not later. Just in time. And when you meet this someone, there is nothing that needs to be said. Only this, softly "Oh, you are here too?"

The last part is the crucial bit. But I guess I blundered on the translation. ;)

The story is included in its entirety below.


From 张爱玲经典散文. Via keep nothing



有个村庄的小康之家的女孩子,生得美,有许多人来做媒,但都没有说成。那年她 不过十五六岁吧,是春天的晚上,她立在后门口,手扶着桃树。她记得她穿的是一件月 白的衫子。对门住的年轻人同她见过面,可是从来没有打过招呼的,他走了过来。离得 不远,站定了,轻轻的说了一声:“噢,你也在这里吗?”她没有说什么,他也没有再说什么,站了一会,各自走开了。






Imani said...

Oh, this fills me with even more excitement for the book. Surprisingly none of the major university libraries in my area, which share a system and allow inter-library loans, own any of her work at all. Imagine! So I recommended her to the librarians and hopefully they'll see fit to order it.

Kate S. said...

She sounds marvellous. A copy of Love in a Fallen City is now awaiting me on the library hold shelf and I can't wait to dive in!

Rebecca H. said...

Hmmm -- I'll be looking for good books in translation this year. This would be a great one.

Anonymous said...

An attempt by a non-professional translator:
LOVE by Eileen Chang
This is real.
There was this girl in a middle-class family in a village. She was pretty and had received many marriage proposals, but none was successful. She was only fifteen or sixteen that year. It was a spring evening. She stood by the back door, her hands holding on to the peach tree. She could recall that she was wearing a beige dress. It was the young man living in the opposite house. They had met but had not spoken. He walked over, stood at close range and said gently, "Oh, are you here as well?" She said nothing. Nor did he say anything else. After standing there for a while, each walked away.
That was the end.
The lady was later conned by her relative, who sold her as a concubine to a faraway place. The trade was repeated a couple of times. After countless adventurous encounters, she could still remember that incident long ago when she grew old. She often spoke about that particular spring evening, under the peach tree at the back door, that young man.
Meeting someone whom you have met among the millions of people, within the dimension of millions of years. In the wilderness of the boundless time, not a moment earlier and not a moment later, and you have met by chance. You will just have to ask gently, "Oh, are you here as well?"