December 15, 2012
Interview: Howard Goldblatt, translator of Mo Yan
Sophia Efthimiatou in Granta:
SE: Were you familiar with Mo Yan’s work before you started translating him?
HG: Yes, I was. In 1985 I spent the year in Manchuria, in Hardin, writing on literature during the Japanese occupation, and it was getting really boring. So I started reading a book of stories that had just been published, calledChinese Fiction in 1985. It was badly done. There were six or eight stories in there by writers that subsequently became well known, and his was one. It was only a few years after the Cultural Revolution so writers were still trying to feel their way. Mo Yan’s was a terrific story, really unusual, quite revolutionary. Then two or three years later, after I had come back to Colorado, a friend of mine in Hong Kong sent me a literary quarterly from China. The Garlic Ballads appeared in that issue in its entirety. I was absolutely knocked out. I had never been so stunned by a piece of literature. So I immediately wrote to Mo Yan, introduced myself, and told him I wanted to translate it in English. He said, ‘Sure.’
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