n mi viaje a Nanjing, una mujer de mediana edad, quizás un poco menor que yo, camina por la acera de la calle Zhong Yang con su perro – una criatura esponjosa, blanca y Bichóon-parecida. La mujer esta envuelta en capas de gasa amarillo, como una princesa. Según su edad, supe que ella debió haber vivido durante al menos una parte de la revolución cultural. Durante este tiempo, forzaron a todos a llevar pantalones y chaquetas unisex de color verde o azul. Ella debió haber vivido durante la parte inicial del periodo de reforma, cuando las demostraciones estudiantiles hicieron eco por todas las calles. Si ella era del barrio, debía recordar todas las décadas cuando, a pesar de que nevó, no hubo calefacción en los inviernos en Nanjing; ni aire acondicionado en el verano a pesar del calor.
Cuando empieza el atardecer, ella se inclina para recoger a su perro y lo carga como bebé en sus brazos rechonchos al otro lado de la calle. Cruza al otro lado y lo deja en la acera con cuidado. El perro baila un poco sobre sus patas traseras, da la vuelta y la sigue a ella con entusiasmo.
A veces una revolución parece así: como una mujer vestida de amarillo, caminando por la calle con su mimado Bichón.
Recuerdo cuando prohibieron a los perros como mascotas. Ocurrió cuando el Partido Comunista los determinó como remanentes del absurdo elitismo burgués.
Cuando era una estudiante extranjera en la Universidad de Nanjing al final de los 1980, los alumnos chinos me contaron la historia de las mascotas que tuvieron. Había una pausa corta en los años de incómoda transición entre la muerte de Mao en 1976 – la terminación de la revolución cultural – y el inicio del periodo de reforma de puertas abiertas bajo el liderazgo de Deng Xiaoping en el diciembre de 1978. En aquel momento nadie hubiera podido imaginar cómo cambiarían las reformas durante los próximos treinta años.
Un alumno recordó que durante su tiempo en la primaria, de repente era legal tener mascotas en la ciudad. Inmediatamente los granjeros del campo empezaron a traer perritos y gatitos para vender. Su familia le compró un perro pequeño, pero cambiaron las reglas e ilegalizaron a los perros otra vez. Quizás los consideraban como contaminación espiritual. Quizás los prohibieron porque las vacunas para la rabia eran raras [escasas?] y caras y, algún político creía que eran un riesgo para la salud de los ciudadanos en una ciudad densamente poblada. Él ya se había enamorado de su perro, entonces su familia decidió esconderlo de las autoridades. Según él, había mucha gente que escondió a su mascota, cuidándolos dentro, y dándoles tiempo afuera solo cuando estaban seguros que no había ni una policía en el área.
Él recordó que estaba en un día así cuando jugaba con su perro pequeño que pasó. Tal vez se había olvidado prestar atención, o quizás la policía había llegado rápidamente. Es posible también que la policía hubiera sabido exactamente lo que hacía la gente con sus mascotas secretas e ilegales y estaban esperando el momento perfecto. Él oyó el pitido y llegó la policía. Su abuela salió de la casa inmediatamente – probablemente sus padres estaban trabajando – y ella lo abrazaba a él cuando lloraba. La policía confiscó su perrito y las otras mascotas de las casa de sus vecinos que habían detenido. Les dieron golpes con garrotes y las mataron a ellos allá en la calle. “Nunca olvidaré” dijo él.
Translator’s Note: The translation of “Women of Nanjing” by May-Lee Chai for the New England Review (NER) was one of the more fun assignments I’ve had at Middlebury. Our class had the opportunity to talk with the head of the NER, Carolyn Kuebler, while we were in the process of translating which was incredibly helpful. Hearing Carolyn discuss the goals of NER and the pieces they typically choose to publish gave me a good sense of what it might be like to work with an author or publishing house on a translation. This was the first time in the class that we had been able to interact with the people for whom we were translating and it led me to want to do right not only by the author, May-Lee Chai, but also by NER.
Many of the challenges I faced in this translation were ones which other peers face and which we spent much time discussing in class. However, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t bring them up here as well. The tenses in the story were confusing at times, and many of us struggled with what to do with the first sentence of the piece. May-Lee Chai writes “On a recent trip to Nanjing, I watch as…” The difficulty arises because “recent” implies that the trip was in the past, but Chai then proceeds to speak about the trip in the present tense. In her call with us, she explained that she was trying to differentiate between her trip to Nanjing and the memories of Nanjing. In order to do this, she wrote about the trip in present tense, while the memories that were woven throughout the story were written in the past tense. As a translator, it felt important for me to stay as true to Chai’s writing and to keep the verb tense changes which acted as signals to the reader. In my attempt to do this, I identified the word “recent” as the problem. If the sentence were to read “On a trip to Nanjing, I watch as…” then there would be no confusion about the fact that the writer is talking about the trip in present tense. Therefore, I decided to omit the word “recien” in the translation.
The next issue I came across was one I have struggled with in many translations: what to do with proper nouns. In the untranslated story, Chai talks about Zhong Yang Boulevard. The question that first came to mind was whether to keep “Boulevard” or change it to “calle” (the Spanish equivalent of “street”). I decided that if the street in the story was Zhong Yang Boulevard by people who spoke Chinese, then I would keep the English name in order to retain some of the Chinese culture. If “Boulevard” was already a translation, then translating it to “calle” would not take away from the translation. It seemed to me that it could even enhance the reader’s understanding. After some research, I found that the street was not called “Boulevard” in Chinese, so I changed the name to Calle Zhong Yang.
During our call with May-Lee Chai, one of my classmates brought up the question of what Chai had meant when she described the woman in the story as looking like a bridesmaid. This was a thoughtful question, and Chai’s answer was incredibly useful. Chai explained that she had hoped to get across the idea that the woman to whom she was referring was dressed up in a way that was unusual for someone taking their dog on a walk. She explained that if bridesmaids did not exist in the cultures into which we were translating, another option was to call her a princess. I was unsure of whether or not bridesmaids were a part of Honduran culture and I made a comment on my paper to ask my trusted native-Spanish-speaking advisor. He replied and, without knowing what Chai had said, suggested that I call her a princess instead of a bridesmaid. Even though there are bridesmaids in Honduran culture, I found it curious that both Chai and my trusted advisor had suggested the word princess as a replacement. It made me wonder about the ubiquity of princesses and whether this idea can translate across most cultures.
One of the more challenging parts of this translation was figuring out how to translate the cultural references such as the Cultural Revolution, the Open Door reform period, and the names of various leaders. There were many references, and, as someone who has not spent much time learning about Chinese culture, I understood few of them. Once I gained more knowledge about what these terms referred to, I was then able to decide how I wanted to translate them. Did I want to use Venuti’s domestication method of translation and bring the text close to the reader, or did it make more sense to use his foreignization method of translation and bring the reader close to the text? I decided to keep the terms the same and assume that the reader would either not understand or would have to choose to be an active reader and do some research about the parts of the story they didn’t understand.
The last issue I ran across was a grammatical one. In “Women of Nanjing,” Chai’s writing style included many long, run-on sentences with multiple clauses, and lots and lots of commas. While I have been told by Spanish speakers that Spanish has some of the longest run-on sentences, I am not masterful enough to know how to construct these, even if I am given a template in English. Because of this, I ended up changing the grammatical structure of the translated piece. I struggled a lot with this decision because I had previously been inspired by the views of Mary Ann Newman. Her translation philosophy involves sticking to the sentence structure of the source text as much as possible. While I’d assumed that doing this would make for an awkward translation, part of what I loved so much about her translation of Private Lives was that it felt grammatically unusual in a way that made it clear I was reading a translation but was still poetic and beautiful. Choosing, then, to go against what she had suggested by changing the grammar structure of my piece, was a bit painful. However, her philosophy is something that I will keep in mind for future translations if/when I become a more experienced translator and Spanish speaker.