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Linking cultures with words
By Yang Guang (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-24 10:38

"I had to rethink every word several times," says German literary translator Thekla Chabbi, referring to her translation of Li Er's novel Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree (石榴树上结樱桃).

Linking cultures with words

Chabbi encountered Li's works in 2004 when a friend recommended Afternoon Poetics (Wuhou de Shixue), a collection of the writer's short stories.

A fan of detective stories, Chabbi was instantly drawn to the one titled, On the Scene (Xian Chang), and its existential narrative style.

Although a well-established writer, Li was not known widely outside China at that time. Since it is not common in Germany to introduce an unknown writer by his short stories, Chabbi decided to translate Li's novel.

To capture its cultural nuances and find an equivalent in German that evoked the same feelings in German readers as the original did for Chinese readers, took her six months, says Chabbi.

According to her, a Chinese writer is very lucky if he can sell around 2,000 copies in Germany, but Li's book crossed that number in just three months.

"The world Li Er creates in Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree is completely unknown to most Germans. Many of them, however, venture into it with passion and enjoy their stay very much," says Chabbi.

Nevertheless, she believes most German readers need help with attempting to read Chinese literature as their reading habits and cultural backgrounds are very different from those of the Chinese.

"Germans have a completely wrong picture of China and Chinese people," says Chabbi, "so a continuous dialogue in several domains - political, social and cultural -is needed to realize the benefits of literature."

"People learn a lot more about other cultures through the fine arts than through seminars," she adds.

Chabbi studied Sinology in Trier, Germany, and Nanjing, China. She now lives in Munich where she teaches Chinese, besides working as a translator.