Eric Abrahamsen has remained devoted to introducing Chinese literature to Western readers for years./China Daily
Eric Abrahamsen has remained devoted to introducing Chinese literature to Western readers for years./China Daily

Spreading the word

ASEAN+ August 14, 2016 01:00

By Yang Yang

China Daily

BEIJING - After living in China for 15 years, American Eric Abrahamsen is returning to his hometown, Seattle, late this year. He is the founder of Paper Republic, a company devoted to translating Chinese literature and introducing it to the West.



He plans to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October to seek cooperation opportunities to publish Chinese books in other languages.
 
"In the US, we will do the same thing we have been doing here-to bridge the cultural communication between the two sides," he says as we walk from the courtyard where his office is located to a nearby cafe in Beijing's Dashilan on a humid hot day.
 
Abrahamsen founded the Paper Republic website in 2007. At first, he invited other Chinese learners to share online the books they had been reading and translating. In 2011, Paper Republic started to do its own projects and in the past two years, the business has grown.
 
At first, he found it difficult to persuade foreign publishers to buy Chinese books.
 
"They didn't know good books and writers in China. They all think it's risky to buy Chinese books because, compared with domestic books, they have to pay extra money for translation and spend a longer time to make the book," he says.
 
As a result, Abrahamsen developed other programs to provide information about Chinese books and writers. His role has gradually changed from translator to consultant, and his promotions included "Northern Girls" by Sheng Keyi, published by Penguin in June. He translated some sample chapters and wrote the introduction of the book.
 
"I love the novel. The language is very vivid, full of vitality. I love the way the story was told and how the writer dealt with the power sex has on a girl,which I've not seen in other Chinese writers' works," he says.
 
He also was involved in the promotion of "The Three-Body Problem" by Liu Cixin, but decided not to translate it to English because the trilogy is too long. The third book in the series, "Death's End", is coming out soon.
 
Other successful promotions include Ge Fei's "The Invisibility Cloak", which is coming out in October, and Jia Pingwa's "Happy".
 
About two metres tall, Abrahamsen speaks fluent Chinese with little accent. With his profound understanding of both Chinese and Western literature, he is often invited to translate and interpret for cultural exchanges, such as during a dialogue between Irish writer Colm Toibin and Chinese writers in Beijing last year.
 
Born in 1978, Abrahamsen visited China at age 10, which left good memories. Ten years later, he came to visit China's west, eager to master Chinese.
 
Although fascinated by literature, Abrahamsen chose international relations as his major at Washington State University because "I wanted to go abroad".
 
"But later I found there is no need to study international relations to go abroad.Youjust buy a plane ticket," he says, laughing.
 
"I wanted to go to China to study Chinese, so I joined in a programme between our university and Minzu University of China(in Beijing)."
 
Since 2001, Abrahamsen has been living in Beijing. He found he wasn't made to be a diplomat. He tried freelance writing, but became frustrated by the uncertainties.
 
As a result, Abrahamsen, a big fan of literature, finally returned to the area he loves.
 
After four years of Chinese study, he could read simple articles. Later, when he could read more complicated novels, he fell in love with Chinese writer Wang Xiaobo.
 
"I found he was deeply influenced by Western literature, judging from his language, sense of humour and thoughts," Abrahamsen says. "Western readers can easily understand him, and feel familiar. He is not only a good writer, but also a very promising writer internationally."
 
But since Wang has passed away, it is hard to excite foreign publishers about his work, Abrahamsen says.
 
In 2008, State University of New York Press published a novella collection, "Wang in Love" and "Bondage: Three Novellas" by Wang Xiaobo. "But they did no publicity, and the translation is not good enough for me," he says. "So it created little attention in the US."
 
Besides Wang, Abrahamsen also loves such Chinese writers as Li Juan and translated one of her essays that was published by Pathlight, an English quarterly by People's Literature Publishing House devoted to introducing Chinese literature abroad.
 
"Her language is very good but very hard to translate. Translation can easily kill the subtlety in her words," he says.
 
While writers of past generations now seem flat and old fashioned in style, there is more potential for broad acceptance in contemporary authors.
 
"Mo Yan's narration is creative, but his language is too exaggerated," Abrahamsen says.
 
Paper Republic has bought copyrights of Liang Hong's nonfiction China in Liangzhuang, A Lai's Empty Mountain and some books by Wang Xiaobo.
 
In the past 10 years, Spanish-language writers from Latin America have become very popular across the West, thanks to similarities in culture backgrounds. But African and Chinese writers face more difficulties because their cultural backgrounds are so alien to Western readers.
 
Western publishers also lack information about contemporary Chinese literature, he says.
 
"Usually they publish a Chinese novel by chance, just like Mai Jia's "Decoded". There happened to be a British translator coming across the book at the airport because of a delayed flight, and the translator's grandfather happened to be a decoder.
 
"How many books have such a coincidence?" he says.
 

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