NEA Literature Fellowships

Jeremy Tiang

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(2016 - Translation)

Excerpt from Far Away by Lo Yi-Chin

[Translated from the Chinese]

En Route

I always hear people (the families left behind after plane crashes, car accidents, terrorist attacks) say dully: Yes, that day as he left the house, I noticed the weather was extraordinarily good. If only I'd told him to stay home then.

Yes. Because it's sealed off and impossible to express, what ends up being remembered tends not to be the event itself, but flashes of light from around that time, mouths opening and closing like in a silent film, or a 360 degree panorama of the surroundings, astonishing and seductive, the detail in every still object.

And in the days to come, the film loop plays over and over, gnawing at your remorse and wariness.

I remember that morning. Older Brother and I sent Father to the gathering point for the tour bus. Father sat beside me in the passenger seat, unable to conceal his excitement, like a great plump child about to set off on some long journey.

Over and over, I urged him to be careful, and he kept making the right noises as if trying to keep me sweet. No problem— the others in the tour group will take care of me! On the other hand, he was very insistent that as soon as my brother had some spare time, he should go prune the longan tree in his garden.

As we helped him up the high steps of the tour bus, I saw clearly that the "old people" on board (the agency had informed me that most of their clients were elderly) were a good ten years younger than my father. They gazed at us expressionlessly but seriously, as if thinking, "How could they send such a frail old man out of the country on his own?" (Isn't this a bit like that film The Ballad of Narayama, the old lady hiking into the mountains so as not to be a burden on her family?)

At the time, my heart contained only anxiety and frustration: would he, as he had been doing in the last few years, latch onto someone in the group, babbling on about old accounts that should have been closed long ago?

Original in Chinese

About Lo Yi-Chin

Lo Yi-Chin is not only one of the most important writers in Taiwan, his work has been greatly influential over the entire Chinese-speaking world. His ability to wryly chronicle the absurdities and peculiarities of daily life, allied to an absurdist sensibility and great erudition, has led to him featuring on many a best-of list and taking home major awards such as the Hong Lou Meng Prize. He depicts the classical heritage and political history of China and Taiwan in deft, easily-grasped strokes, exposing the complex emotions that bridge this national divide in a dispassionate voice that lays the blame on neither side.

Jeremy Tiang has translated novels and story/essay collections by Chan Ho-kei, Yeng Pway Ngon, You Jin, Wong Yoon Wah, Yan Geling, Yu Qiuyu, Su Wei-chen, and Zhang Yueran, and received grants and fellowships from PEN/ Heim, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature. His own short story collection, It Never Rains on National Day, was published by Epigram Books in 2015. His writing has also appeared in The Guardian, Esquire, Asia Literary Review, Brooklyn Rail, Drunken Boat, Meanjin, Ambit, QLRS, and Best New Singaporean Short Stories, and won the Golden Point Award in 2009. Jeremy also writes and translates plays, including Floating Bones (two plays by Quah Sy Ren and Han Lao Da; The Arts House, Singapore), A Dream of Red Pavilions (adapted from the novel Hong Lou Meng; Pan-Asian Repertory Theatre, NYC), and The Last Days of Limehouse (Yellow Earth Theatre, London).

Photo by Jeremy Tiang

Translator's Statement

While translation has brought many Chinese-language writers to an English-language readership, with figures like Mo Yan and Su Tong becoming, if not exactly household names, certainly more widely-known internationally. (Winning a Nobel Prize or having Zhang Yimou adapt your work probably doesn't hurt either.) Much of this attention, though, has gone to work from Mainland China, and while this is understandable in terms of the sheer size of the country and its increasingly dominant position on the world stage, it's been a shame that writing from other Sinophone territories, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia, has been comparatively overlooked.

Lo Yi-Chin's work is of particular interest not just for its Taiwanese point-of-view, but Mr. Lo's own in-between status. This is explored in great depth in Far Away – his Mainland Chinese father and half-brothers colliding with the narrator's own Taiwanese sensibility, and finding a surprising rapprochement that mirrors the tricky balancing act their governments are engaged in. I am very pleased that NEA has chosen to bring attention to a book that crosses boundaries in this way, shining a light on a side of Chinese-language writing that Anglophone readers may not be as familiar with.

Speaking for myself, this fellowship provides a welcome respite from the general precariousness of life as a full-time writer/ translator. It's a luxury to be able to work on a wonderful book I believe in, free of commercial pressures, trusting that the opportunity to publish will arrive when the time is right. I look forward to spending the months to come immersing myself in Mr. Lo's questing, compassionate novel, and hopefully introducing it to an even wider readership than it already has.