a.k.a. Why I love this novel and decided to translate it
I came across this novel two weeks ago. I had been on a reading spree to both cure my boredom and to relieve my stress after work. I got interested in Chinese romance novels this summer after revisiting Da Mo Yao (Ballad of the Desert), a favorite of mine, which I read earlier this year. Given that Chinese romance novels are now a big market in Vietnam, I encountered no trouble searching for novels and finding translations to read. I was scrolling along a list of Top 50 Most Influentual Chinese Romance Novels, and came across this one.
The title was interesting and almost controversial – Đức Phật và Nàng, which was an adapted title meaning the Buddha and Her (“nàng” = 卿 qīng from the original title). It was certainly a bold move by the Vietnamese translator/publisher, but it worked. “nàng” is an intimate term used by a man to call his lover/wife. To put such a word parallel to the word Buddha ought to cause a reaction, which it did for numerous Viet readers who came across the novel by chance. But at the same time, “nàng” has such a tender connotation that the title intrigued me.
I then searched for an ebook link and read the reviews/comments. I was amazed. This was perhaps my 10th Chinese romance book (not very impressive but still) and this was the first one in which every single comment was high praise. Praise for the book, for the characters, especially the male lead, for the rich historical context, for everything. One particular review by Lam Diệp left a deep impression on me. It was an essay over 4,000 words praising the novel to the moon, describing in the detail why the romance was so hauntingly beautiful.
I have had enough of violent and possessive alpha male leads lately. I blame English paranormal books. But then male leads in other genres, and in many Chinese novels, are not that better. “Faithful to Buddha, faithful to you” [FBFY] appeared to be different. A “proper” male lead, an intelligent female lead, and a romance built on respect, admiration, trust and love (not just physical attraction)? Added to the mix is history and religious philosophy? Count me in.
I spent the next one and half days reading with only minimal rests for sleep and food. Two weeks later, I am still haunted. I have various dramas I was following and many other books I wanted to read next. But after reading FBFY, I could not pick up anything else. I could not stop comparing every male lead to Rajiva, could not help feeling disappointed with every romance depicted in other medium.
Was the novel perfect? Depends on your definition of perfection. Was it a literary genius masterpiece? Not quite. Was the writing and plot free of flaws? No. Did it transcend beyond the fourth wall, grab the readers by the heart and clutch on tight and make us experience every emotion the characters felt? Yes. When you finished it, did you sigh in happiness and sadness? Yes. Did it continue to haunt you even long after? Yes. Then it has done enough. It has achieved perfection in my definition.
And so for the first time ever, I decided to start a translation project. It’s a mad idea. I mean, I barely know any Chinese. Whatever I learned in grade 4-5 and 8 had long left me. Obviously I have to translate from the Vietnamese published version. Which is still not any less mad, given that my Vietnamese skills have deteriorated since I went abroad. My comprehension has not lessened, but my instinctual translation between Eng-Viet has. But I love the novel. I want English readers to know it too.
I was even more inspired by koalasplayground for her translation of Da Mo Yao. Heck, it was her translation that I read along with the Vietnamese version, chapter by chapter. Through her blog, I found that there was an audience who wanted to find good reads and were open to Chinese romance novels. It makes sense. Asian dramas today have many international fans. The novels are not that much different; the same familiar themes are present in both medium.
So here I am. A brand new blog, on a site I have not used before. I am incredibly nervous and excited at the same time. I do not know if I can get any readers. But I want to try anyway, because even one reader is good enough for me. One reader is one more person who gets know what a gem this novel is.