The Asia Literary Review is an independent quarterly literary magazine publishing the best contemporary writing from and about Asia, in English and in translation.

Our aim is to draw attention to established and emerging writers, to give voice to talent and topics that aren’t often heard or easily found, and to provide stimulating, thought-provoking, inspiring and entertaining reading material through our website and magazines.

Editorial from ALR 33, Spring 2017 – A tribute to literary translators

One of the Asia Literary Review’s principal aims over the past decade has been to introduce undiscovered Asian voices to the English-language world. Many of our published works new to an English readership come to us from an indispensable but under-appreciated core of literary professionals – the translators.

Translation is both a rewarding and a fraught undertaking. Translated texts have been circulating for centuries, bridging cultures, expanding human thought and driving profound social change. The accumulated library of translated literature has allowed us to hold any one of a vast number of foreign worlds in the palm of our hand and enter it from the comfort of a familiar armchair. What would anglophone culture be without the enrichment of a Homer, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Márquez, Mann, or Murakami?

Yet, translating literature has always been – and always will be – an imprecise and subjective craft, vulnerable to harsh criticism. The debate over the translator’s role is old, and yet it continues to rage. How closely, in terms of technical fidelity, should the translated text adhere to its source, if the resulting voice, description and dialogue comes across feeling clunky in the target language?

Alternatively, how much liberty may the translator take in adapting the text? At what point does the resulting work become not so much a faithful representation of the original, but something altogether different? Anyone who has read two translated versions of the same work will sense how different each experience is from the other. And who’s to say which is better – or whether such a judgment can even be made?

The ALR was pleased that the Man Booker International Prize was recast in 2016 to focus exclusively on single works translated into English, with the prize money shared equally between author and translator. This approach acknowledges both the vital contributions that world literature has made to the anglophone library, and the delicate balancing act that the two collaborators must engage in to produce an internationally successful work. We at the ALR were delighted when the 2016 winner was The Vegetarian, written by South Korea’s Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith.

This past winter, in our own more modest celebration of translations, English PEN and the ALR jointly organised a competition called ‘PEN Presents . . . East and South-east Asia’. Translators from the region were invited to submit book proposals and translation samples related to works written by noteworthy local authors who have not yet had a complete work published in English. A panel of judges chose six finalists from a wide variety of entrants. The selected translators were granted a cash award, had their work compiled into a catalogue that was marketed at the London Book Fair in March 2017, and have been invited to London for an event in June 2017 when a winner will be chosen.

The world these days seems more divisive than in the past, with a social rhetoric increasingly about walls rather than bridges, divorce rather than union. Translations such as those in this volume offer resistance against this troubling trend. The work is passionate, dedicated and courageous.

The translators implore us to broaden our horizons rather than withdraw from debate into the echoes of our own intellectual caves. They ask us to maintain a supple mind and an open heart. For providing us with this opportunity, the ALR extends its deep gratitude to literary translators everywhere.