Sunday, January 26 2020


French translator brings VN literature to foreign readers

Update: July, 16/2015 - 08:47
Culture export: French translator Yves Bouille has opened a chapter of contemporary Vietnamese literature for French readers. — Photos courtesy of Yves Bouille
by Bach Lien

In 2008, when Yves Bouille first arrived in Viet Nam, he only wanted to stay six months to attend cooking school. But the country has kept him here much longer than he thought.

"Viet Nam pleased me so much that I wanted to extend my experiences here," the 31-year-old Frenchman said.

He took advantage of his stay in Viet Nam to work at a hotel and improve his Vietnamese. Four years later, back in France, he has now become a translator of novels, from Vietnamese to French.

He first had success with his translation of Song Song (Parallel), the first novel of Vietnamese writer Vu Dinh Giang, followed by his translation of Paris 11 Thang 8 (Paris 11 August), a novel by Thuan, which he described as "an excellent novel, full of humour and of justice in French society."

He will soon finish the translation of another novel.

Bouille said that the translation of the first book was performed at the suggestion of his Vietnamese professor, Doan Cam Thi, who taught him Vietnamese literature at the National Institute of Oriental languages and civilisations at Paris 7 University.

"I did not know the work by Vu Dinh Giang before. When I read it, I appreciated his innovations and audacious writing style. I was struck by the darkness of the text. I had the impression that I had in my hand what is called a "literary UFO." A strong and beautiful text. And I told myself that I absolutely had to translate it," he said.

Bouille said he began to translate the Vietnamese books when Thi proposed he collaborate with her to promote contemporary Vietnamese literature collections for the Riveneuve Publishing House, which she co-founded with other literature experts.

"I share with her the taste of contemporary literature and the wish to promote contemporary Vietnamese literature to the French public. So far, very few books by Vietnamese authors have been translated into French. I find it a pity because the translated books, which are available, have become old and are no longer suitable to the reality of the country," he said.

Rich language: Yves Bouille has translated two contemporary novels by Vietnamese writers: Song Song (Parallel) and Paris 11 Thang 8 (Paris 11 August).

In translating those books, Bouille has developed perfect Vietnamese. He first began to learn Vietnamese language by himself using his own method. He bought a book with audio files and listened to them everyday.

"It was not difficult for me to learn Vietnamese, because I was very motivated to learn it. I have a musical ear, which is a great help to master the tones," he explains.

The young Frenchman has discovered several advantages to the Vietnamese language.

"At first, the grammar is very simple. The words are invariable. The verbs do not have to be conjugated. The rules for pronunciation are stable. And the quoc ngu facilitates the lecturing and writing. What is more difficult is the richness of the personal names and remembering the vocabulary," he said.

Bouille then improved his Vietnamese during a 3-year course of Vietnamese literature with professor Thi.

Love of Viet Nam

His interest in Vietnamese culture and language began in his adolescence, as a large part of his family was born and lived in Viet Nam for some years during the time of Indochina (French colonialism).

However, he did not hear many stories about Viet Nam from his family. The country that he had imagined was made up of images that he watched in films or formed through his readings.

Yet the reality that he witnessed in Viet Nam was very different from his imagination.

"I imagined a calm and peaceful atmosphere that I could find in the countryside, but the frenetic activity and the dynamism of the cities made me see things very differently," he said.

"During my life in Viet Nam, I did everything using a Vietnamese style like cooking my meals. My Vietnamese friends told me that I became more Vietnamese than them except for the fact that I could never ride a motorbike !," laughs Bouille.

He said that what he loved in Viet Nam came from his own experiences.

"My experiences here profoundly changed me. I could discover a very different culture, which enriched my life and opened my way of seeing things. It's easy to get in contact with other people, and I discovered the joy of living. I have kept wonderful souvenirs. And Viet Nam is also a paradise for those who love good gastronomy," he said with a big smile. — VNS

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