Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 12 News List

Modern form can't hide bad prose

By Cao Chang-ching 曹長青

So far, the translator, Mabel Lee, has taken most of the blame for the book's coarseness and obscurity. This writer certainly has no intention of glorifying Lee's translation, for mistakes and inaccuracies could easily be picked here and there throughout the book (well, if the whole book is nonsense, why can't a translator add a little more?). What must be pointed out is that Gao's original is as dreadful as the English translation, if not worse. Grammatical blunders and misused characters can be easily found in the Chinese text. Who said Gao is a Chinese language master? Only the Swedish Academy, certainly nobody Chinese. It would invite ridicule for any Chinese person to praise Gao. The language, as well as the content, in his second novel, One Man's Bible, was reduced to such a level that many Chinese writers can find no other word but "trash" to describe it.

The fact that Gao's books were consigned to oblivion immediately after they were released to bookstores here in Taiwan (before their author won the Nobel) was not because they were too avant-garde for the general reading public to understand, but because of their awful quality. The adulation around him now is for his crown and political purpose only.

Nothing better describes what Soul Mountain is than Hans Andersen's fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes. This writer simply has to say out loud that the "Chinese emperor" is indeed naked!

I certainly have not read all Gao's works, but I believe there could be no greater scandal than this one in the Nobel literature prize's history. With the generous intention of honoring Chinese writers, the Swedish Academy has instead played a big joke on international society and Chinese people everywhere. I have no doubt that the Nobel committee will bitterly regret their blunder before they begin trying to select the next winner.

Cao Chang-Ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.

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