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English-Language Edition of 'Chinatown' by Thuận Wins US Translation Award

The 2023 National Translation Award for fiction was given by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) to Nguyễn An Lý’s translation of Chinatown by Thuận.

The United States' only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction goes to one work of prose per year. Its selections involve a rigorous review of the work in English and its original language. 

Originally written in Vietnamese and published in 2005, Chinatown was translated by Nguyễn An Lý and released by Tilted Axis Press in the UK and New Directions in the US. It is the second of nine novels released by the Vietnamese writer who grew up in Hanoi and Saigon before attending university in the Soviet Union and later settling in France.

Lý, a Hanoi native now based in Saigon, has translated numerous books from English to Vietnamese, but this is her first novel from Vietnamese to English. She co-founded and co-edits the independent online literary publication Zzz Review

Of the translation, the judges noted: “Thuận's novel ... brought to us by Nguyễn An Lý’s sweeping, melodic phrasing, is anything but sedentary: who knew reverie could be this fast-moving, this suspenseful? Below the surface, waiting, feeling the uneasy gaze of her fellow Parisians, our narrator travels back through her memories—of her son, of Hanoi, of his absent, longed-for father—and, in so doing, gifts us constraint’s solace: that memories might bring one back to a sense of self, against all the odds.”

In an illuminating interview with diaCRITICS about the book and translation process, Lý said: “I had read Chinatown when it was first published and shed many a tear over it, that I thought (and still think!) it was the finest of the author’s repertoire so far.” She went on to note: “Translating Chinatown has been to me a study in compromises, like I said, between preserving (indeed protecting) the author’s idiosyncrasies and rehabilitating its Vietnamisms to a degree that sounds acceptable to my own ear with English mode on (not to mention my editors’!).”

The Nationational Translation was founded 25 years ago and separated prose and poetry nine years ago. It carries a US$4,000 prize and awards ceremony with the judges and winning translators at a conference in the US. 

Read Saigoneer's review of the novel here.

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