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Local folk tales translated into English

Update: February, 20/2016 - 09:35
Folk lore: Legends from Serene Lands, the book of Vietnamese folk tales translated by Australian author Harry Aveling. — VNS Photo Minh Thu

HA NOI (VNS)— Some of Viet Nam's most popular folk tales can now be read in English in a book set to be published in Viet Nam.

Australian translator Harry Aveling introduced his work, Legends from Serene Lands, yesterday in Ha Noi.

Aveling translated the French-language Legendes des Terres Sereines comprising folk tales selected by scholar Pham Duy Khiem (1908-74) into English.

The book had been published by Prestige Books International Publishing in Sydney in 2011. Now The Gioi (World) Publishers have released it in Viet Nam.

Aveling came to Viet Nam to teach in 2002 and began falling in love with the local culture. He wanted to introduce Vietnamese literature to English readers, but he didn't know Vietnamese.

Three years ago, his friend, poet Bao Chan, introduced him to Legendes des Terres Sereines, by scholar Khiem who was born in Ha Noi and educated in Paris. Khiem was the first Vietnamese to graduate from a French university. He served as Ambassador of Viet Nam to France during the 1950s.

His collection, Legendes des Terres Sereines, was first published in Ha Noi in 1942 and in an enlarged form in Paris in 1951 then republished in 1989.

Aveling was attracted by the stories and beautiful language. With support from poet Chan, Aveling had a chance to access the original printed version in French. He also contacted Khiem's family and the publishing house in France to acquire the copyright to translate it.

"He writes in a lyrical, deeply moving manner and makes the rich cultural heritage of his country immediately accessible to all people," said Aveling.

"The present volume is a beautiful collection of folk tales from Viet Nam. The stories tell of love, happiness and disappointment, war, victory and defeat, of wise and foolish ministers, enchanting fairies and poor scholars," he said.

Aveling said a translator stands at the middle of two cultures, and he wants to play the role of a bridge to introduce one culture to another.

While translating the book, he had to translate literally; look at problems of culture, idea and context of the story and rewrite the whole story.

The second task was most difficult, he said.

"There are the big difference between Vietnamese and French culture. So Khiem simplified many things to make it easy to understand for French readers. For example, exhumation is extremely strange to French readers."

"When I approached his translation, I tried to look back at Vietnamese traditional culture to understand exactly what happened in the story," he said.

The translator also wrote many footnotes based on his own knowledge and research to explain more for readers.

Prof. Aveling teaches at two universities in Australia. He has publications on Southeast Asia studies including a poem collection translated from Indonesian to English.

He revealed that the next book he will translate is a novel by Khiem, Nam et Sylvie, a romantic love story between a Vietnamese man and a French woman.

"It took three years to complete the Legendes des Terres Sereines translation, so I think I need from three to five years to translate Nam et Sylvie because it's much more difficult," he said.

The 150-page book comprising 26 stories is sold at VND85,000. — VNS

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