Culture Vulture (Jan. 23 2013)
Thirty-six-year-old Nguyen Bich Lan, who has had muscular dystrophy since she was 13, taught herself English and became a successful translator. She speaks to Culture Vulture about her achievements.
Why did you choose to become a translator?
I had no choice. After five years of teaching English to village schoolchildren in Hung Ha District in Thai Binh Province, my health started to get worse. I couldn't continue to teach because it required me to speak a lot.
It was my aunt, poet Nguyen Thi Hong, who encouraged me to translate books. I began working with the Women's Publishing House. Since then, I have translated 24 books and they have published 16 of them.
I began writing before I started translating. I wrote several short stories but I kept it a secret. Recently, I decided to publish those stories.
I have to say that my harsh situation helped bring me the success I have today. If this tragedy had not occurred 23 years ago, I wouldn't have had the chance to train myself and awaken my potential. I do it to express my love of life and gratitude for life.
How were you able to become a translator under such difficult conditions?
In my autobiography Khong Guc Nga (Never Collapse), I write in detail about my method of self-taught English. If you read it, you will see how difficult it was for me to learn English. The study requires self-discipline, patience and creativity.
Residing within four walls, without a teacher or classmate, I had to discover several methods to practise what I had learned. The results came to me not after one night but several years of working hard.
No miracle occurred. I had to create the miracle for myself in that way.
Why did you write an autobiography so early? Do you have many things to share with young people?
It was not my idea. One day, Nguyen Van Phuoc, director of Tri Viet Book Company, suggested that I write something about my life and challenges that I had faced, and the way I had overcome them. So, I started writing.
What do you want to say through your book?
I want my readers to know that any difficulty or adversity cannot stamp out their aspirations for a happy and meaningful life.
Every one of us seems small and weak but in fact we are often much stronger and greater than our challenges. If we are brave facing our difficulties, they will be defeated by our will.
You have successfully translated several books with tragic themes. Do you identify with these characters?
It's undeniable that I like and can successfully translate books about people challenged by terrible tragedies. The story of the poor youth in Slumdog Millionaire or the story of the man without limbs in the book Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic really touched me.
I am really passionate about my job.
Who encouraged you to overcome the pain of illness and pursue translation?
My mother. She is always the first reader of my books. She creates the most favourable conditions for me to work.
Many people said that you would have been even more successful if you had not had your illness. How do you respond?
I've never thought about the past in that way. I'm really thankful about the challenges and even misfortune because my spirit would not be as strong and optimistic as it is today without them. — VNS