Duong Thu Ai, the translator with the highest number of books published in Viet Nam, talked with Trung Hieu about his work.
Over the past 21 years, translator Duong Thu Ai, a member of the Ha Noi Writers' Association, has translated and compiled nearly 200 books totalling more than 70,000 pages.
He now holds the record for the translator with the highest number of books published in Viet Nam.
Inner Sanctum: Your given name was Duong Van Thu but you changed it to Duong Thu Ai. Some people say that a name change can also change your fate. Was that the case with you?
In the past, we could change our names quite easily. I changed my name when I was a 4th year student. Students whose names began with the letter T, often had to wait to enter exams because students were called in alphabetical order so I changed my name in order to enter exams earlier.
I often think: The past has gone, the brighter future has yet to arrive, so we only have the present. We have to live for the present. Just live and give our hearts.
Inner Sanctum: Translating books is often not very well paid. What makes you devote all your heart and efforts to book translation?
I used to be a teacher of Chinese. I attended a teacher training course in Nanning (China) in 1954. Many of my classmates went on to be very successful.
After returning to Viet Nam, I taught Chinese to students in mountainous provinces including Cao Bang, Thai Nguyen and Phu Tho. I also worked as a researcher at the Foreign Language Teacher Training University.
In Bac Giang Province in 1976, I was forced out of my job because my students quit their Chinese classes.
After I stopped teaching Chinese at the school, I worked as a receptionist and even a school drummer to earn my living.
When I retired in 1988, it was a hard time for my family. We had to earn our living by selling salt and coal in Ha Noi.
I thought that I should use my knowledge of Chinese to contribute in some small way to the good of the country, to compensate for the years when I was unable to share my linguistic skills.
My first translated book, the Thich Ca Mau Ni Phat (The Buddha Sakyamuni) was printed in 1993, and was well received by readers, especially researchers of Buddhism. Some monks even invited me to live with them in their pagoda to translate books about Buddhism.
But then Professor Phong Le introduced me to the deputy director and deputy editor-in-chief of the Cong an Nhan dan (People's Public Security) publishing house, Nguyen Thu, and I began to officially work as a translator. For the past 20 years, each day I have written out 10 A4 pages of translated text.
Inner Sanctum: How many books have you translated and what genre have they been?
I have translated a total of 198 books from 1988 to date. Most of them are novels and books for study and research. Books are aimed at different people so I choose a variety of books to translate.
Translating books is not an easy job. For a book that took me a year to translate, I was paid about VND7-8 million. It's not a large sum, is it?
Moreover, publishers have to invest up to VND500 million (US$ 25,641) to publish a book so it has to be good, and this depends a lot on the talent and devotion of the translator.
Inner Sanctum: You are famous for only using pens that you find on the street and used paper to write on. Can you explain why you do this?
My wife, Nguyen Kim Hanh, is also a retired teacher and has been of great help to me in my work.
Every day for the past 30 years, we have walked from our house to nearby Nghia Tan Park. On our way we often see many ball-point pens that people have dropped in the street. I bring them home to use.
I believe it is like a predestined affinity, and that the pens are heaven sent. I consider this sacred, so I respect the pens.
I have written all my books using the pens that I've collected in the streets.
I am only inspired when I use theabandoned pens and used paper. I don't lack for money, as my four children run successful businesses. My son-in-law once gave me three pens, worth up to US$300 each, but I just stored them away.
My children offered to buy me a computer for my work, but I refused because I love writing by hand.
I lack inspiration when I use expensive things to write. People may think I am crack-brained, but this is my own working style, which has penetrated my blood.
Inner Sanctum: Is there anything you want to tell the younger generation?
My motto is "We should do our best first, then success will come."
I always feel happy when my books are published, because I know they will be sent to every corner of the country and to many libraries throughout the world. I feel proud that I have contributed to my country and people.
This year I will be 75 years old, I do not have much time left so I have to make the most of it.
I am going to translate the Great Dictionary for Idiomatic Stories, which contains about 500 stories on Viet Nam and China. This will be my last work.
Before that, I should finish translating 48 books of funny stories.
I will continue to pick up pens in the street and use the used paper to translate and compile books until my heath prevents me from doing so. — VNS