Carlos Rojas was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for his translation of Yan Lianke’s The Explosion Chronicles.
Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to the work of your writer?
Carlos Rojas: Yan Lianke’s work combines a close attention to modern social concerns with a commitment to formal experimentation. From the Great Famine of the late 1950s (The Four Books) to rural China’s “AIDS villages” in the 1980s and ’90s (Dream of Ding Village), Yan Lianke uses his fiction to interrogate an array of crises that have received little attention in works by other contemporary authors. At the same time, however, each of Yan’s novels adopts a different voice and compositional structure, such that how he tells his stories becomes as important as the stories’ content.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you’d done?
Carlos Rojas: This is the third novel by Yan Lianke that I have translated (the other two being Lenin’s Kisses and The Four Books). Although each of these works contains a mixture of humor and pathos, the first two works are quite dark in tone, while The Explosion Chronicles is comparatively lighter. However, one should not be misled by the novel’s humor, because beneath the satirical veneer the work presents a probing critique of contemporary China’s explosive economic growth, its rapid urbanizations, and the attitudinal shift that they have enabled.
WWB: What are you reading now, or which writers from the language and literary tradition you translate do you think readers ought to pay attention to as potential future MBI winners?
Carlos Rojas: Mainland China has a large number of very talented authors, including Su Tong, Jia Pingwa, and Wang Anyi. Other Chinese-language authors I am particularly interested in include Dung Kai-cheung from Hong Kong, Chu T’ien-wen and Luo Yijun from Taiwan, and the Malaysian Chinese authors Ng Kim Chew, Chang Kuei-hsing, and Li Yongping.