DY­NAMIC DUO

Ac­claimed Sin­ga­pore au­thor Yeng Pway Ngon’s wife, Goh Beng Choo, not only gives him feed­back on his manuscripts, she also trans­lated many of his Chi­nese lit­er­ary works into English

ZbBZ (Singapore) - - IN FOCUS - TEXT TEOH HEE LA / 张曦娜PHOTOGRAPHY 严宣融

文化奖作家英培安和妻子吴明珠鹣鲽情深,他的作品,吴明珠永远是第一个读者,他的许多小说、散文、诗歌,也都是由吴明珠翻译成英文。

The first per­son to read feted poet-novelist Yeng Pway Ngon’s works is al­ways his wife, Goh Beng Choo. This is be­cause they are not just part­ners in life, but also part­ners at work.

Goh, a for­mer bilin­gual jour­nal­ist with The Straits Times, has trans­lated many of her hus­band’s Chi­nese-lan­guage lit­er­ary works into English.

These in­clude The Non-Ex­is­tent Lover And Other Sto­ries, an English trans­la­tion of a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries Yeng wrote from 1968 to 2003. The book was launched last month.

Now 70, Yeng won the Cul­tural Medal­lion for Lit­er­a­ture in 2003 and has pub­lished more than 20 vol­umes of works across gen­res, in­clud­ing plays,

po­etry, fic­tion and es­says.

Goh first tried her hand at trans­lat­ing his short sto­ries in the 1980s. These in­cluded The Tid­bit Stall Woman and Gar­den City, which were pub­lished in The Straits Times. This boosted her con­fi­dence and she be­gan work­ing as a trans­la­tor and free­lance writer af­ter leav­ing the news­pa­per in 1993.

She en­joys the chal­lenge of trans­lat­ing lit­er­ary works, es­pe­cially those by her hus­band.

“His works lend them­selves to trans­la­tion eas­ily as he doesn’t use fancy lan­guage and con­veys his thoughts clearly,” she says. “At the same time, I have a good grasp of his sense of irony.”

Dur­ing the cre­ative process, Yeng would some­times seek his wife’s opin­ion as a reader. “I lis­ten to her com­ments but I do not nec­es­sar­ily ac­cept all of them. I mull over her feed­back and make changes only when nec­es­sary.”

Goh, 65, is an un­abashed fan of her hus­band’s work, es­pe­cially his po­etry.

“His po­ems are so good that I thought it would be a pity not to trans­late them. They are highly imag­i­na­tive and con­tain vivid im­agery,” she says. “Some, such as Jour­ney Of The Con­fu­cian Scholar and Two Po­ems In The Style Of Clas­si­cal Po­etry, are also rem­i­nis­cent of clas­si­cal po­etry and can be read and an­a­lysed again and again.”

The cou­ple have been mar­ried for more than 40 years and have a daugh­ter and two young grand­sons.

Yeng be­gan writ­ing in the 1960s, start­ing with mod­ern po­etry that touched on so­cial af­fairs. In 1977, he was de­tained un­der the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act for al­leged leftist sympathies.

He is still re­mem­bered for the in­ci­sive news­pa­per col­umns he wrote in the Chi­nese press dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s.

A Man Like Me, his first novel in 1987, won him a Sin­ga­pore Book Prize awarded by the Na­tional Book De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil. Af­ter pub­lish­ing an­other book ti­tled Lonely Face in 1988, he took a long break from novel-writ­ing.

“I’d al­ways wanted to write a novel about the stu­dents of Chi­nese schools and the stu­dent move­ment in the 1950s but I had to make a liv­ing then,” he re­calls. “Writ­ing news­pa­per col­umns took up all my time. I was also writ­ing ra­dio plays for Red­if­fu­sion to make ends meet.”

He worked briefly in Hong Kong as a free­lance colum­nist for Sing Tao Daily and the United Daily News in the 1990s, dur­ing which he rented a small apart­ment in sub­ur­ban Tuen Mun. Home­sick, he de­cided to re­turn to Sin­ga­pore a year later.

In 1995, he set up Grass­roots Book Room, a Chi­nese book­store that be­came a cul­tural land­mark here.

Work kept him so busy that he re­sumed writ­ing only af­ter more than 10 years. And Yeng has been mak­ing up for lost time.

In the last dozen years or so, he has pub­lished a new novel ev­ery three years, all to crit­i­cal ac­claim.

Three of his nov­els have bagged the Sin­ga­pore Lit­er­a­ture Prize: Un­rest (2002), Triv­i­al­i­ties About Me And My­self (2006) and Art Stu­dio (2011).

The last two were also picked by Hong Kong jour­nal Asia Weekly for its pres­ti­gious an­nual list of the 10 Best Chi­nese Nov­els in the World.

Goh, who worked with poet Loh Guan Liang to trans­late Art Stu­dio, named the novel as her favourite among her hus­band’s works.

“The char­ac­ters and events are highly iden­ti­fi­able and tran­scend lan­guage and cul­tural bar­ri­ers. There is a ro­man­tic air to the en­tire novel,” she says.

Yeng was di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer in 2008 while work­ing on Art Stu­dio, which traces the “Vary­ing per­spec­tives cre­ate dif­fer­ent re­sponses in the reader. I like the nar­ra­tive form of this novel. It is also writ­ten in greater de­tail than my other works.” —Yeng Pway Ngon lives of a group of artists over sev­eral decades.

Draw­ing from his own strug­gle, he cre­ated a pro­tag­o­nist in the novel called Yan­pei and delved into his psy­che as the char­ac­ter bat­tles can­cer.

The ac­claimed book was trans­lated into Ital­ian as L’Ate­lier by Bar­bara Leonesi, a Chi­nese-lan­guage lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Turin.

In 2014, the cou­ple were in­vited to Italy for Fes­ti­valet­ter­atura, the In­ter­na­tional lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val held ev­ery year in Man­tua. There, they were re­ceived warmly by Ital­ian fans of Art Stu­dio.

“Italy was an in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence in my writ­ing ca­reer,” says Yeng. “Dur­ing the trip, I also saw how pas­sion­ate the Ital­ians are about lit­er­a­ture.”

His prostate can­cer went into re­mis­sion, but he was di­ag­nosed with colon can­cer in 2015 while writ­ing his most re­cent novel, Opera Cos­tume.

In an in­ter­view with The Straits Times last month, he re­vealed he has been given three more years to live. But the prog­no­sis has spurred him to work harder.

He com­pleted Opera Cos­tume while un­der­go­ing treat­ment and also vis­ited Guangzhou and Hong Kong to con­duct re­search on Can­tonese opera dur­ing the 1930s.

Asked to pick his own favourite work, Yeng chose Lonely Face, which deals with the dif­fi­cul­ties a Nan­tah grad­u­ate faces in his ca­reer and mar­riage. The novel is ex­cep­tional for its psy­cho­log­i­cal depth.

“Many peo­ple have told me that they are fond of Art Stu­dio. But Lonely Face was writ­ten in a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive form, pre­sented through the per­spec­tive of three per­sons — I, you and him,” he ex­plains. “Vary­ing per­spec­tives cre­ate dif­fer­ent re­sponses in the reader. I like the nar­ra­tive form of this novel. It is also writ­ten in greater de­tail than my other works.”

All his nov­els draw heav­ily on his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences at var­i­ous stages of his life. He is now work­ing on a book that tells the story of a writer from the first-per­son per­spec­tive, and con­tains his re­flec­tions on the el­derly.

He con­cedes that his fail­ing health has hin­dered the novel’s progress, but hopes to com­plete it in the next two years.

Ever the pro­fes­sional, he seeks to pro­duce only the best work.

“His­tory is a se­quence of events that have hap­pened in real life. But the nar­ra­tive of the novel is ul­ti­mately fic­tional. The novelist must be a com­pe­tent sto­ry­teller,” he says. 本地作家,文化奖得主英培安的短篇小说集《不存在的情人》,日前出版了英文版“The NonEx­is­tent Lover And Other Sto­ries”,收入英培安60年代至2000年代的短篇及极短篇小说,翻译者不是别人,正是他的妻子吴明珠。

《不存在的情人》所选作品包括《零食档上的女人》《影子里的人》《花园城市》《白鸟》《不存在的情人》《寄错的邮件》等。

英培安与吴明珠是本地文坛少见的,一个从事华文创作,另一个将作品英译的夫妻档。英培安可说是文坛上不多见的多面手,创作量可观,先后出版20余部作品,包括诗集、小说、戏剧、杂文集及评论集。

英培安自1960年代,少年时代开始创作,最初写现代诗,他的诗歌社会性强,充满批判色彩,例如《手术台上》:苔藓在阳光下/仙人掌在塞外/向日葵在狱中/蔷薇在巷里/输血的被挤在底层/吮血的不断上升/没有比这更是凄凉的悲剧

许多人还记得的是,七八十年代英培安曾以笔名“孔大山”写了不少风格犀利,针砭时弊的杂文。1980年代末以来,他致力于长篇小说创作,第一部长篇作品《一个像我这样的男人》发表于1986年,他并以此书赢得书籍发展理事会颁发的书籍奖。近十余年来,英培安每隔三几年就出版一本长篇小说,而且每一部作品都获得肯定。

除了《不存在的情人》之外,吴明珠过去也翻译了英培安的《一个像我这样的男人》,并与英语诗人卢冠良联手合译英培安的长篇《画室》(Art Stu­dio),两人各译半部小说。

2012年,吴明珠又翻译了整套共五辑的英培安诗歌集,五辑诗歌共30多首,以中英文对照的方式呈现,以小本诗歌集的形式推出。五辑作品分别为《叛逆》(Re­bel­lion)、《个人笔记》(Per­sonal Notes)、《自我放逐》(Self-Ex­ile)、《复苏》(Resur­gence)及《杂感》(Other Thoughts)。 《叛逆》由吴明珠及本地英文诗人冯启明(Alvin Pang)合译,其他四本则由吴明珠和本地英文诗人黄思颖(Ju­dith Huang)合译。

吴明珠过去多年来在《海峡时报》双语版任职记者,主要采访中国画家与美术方面的题材,1993年自《海峡时报》离职后,她从事翻译工作及自由撰稿。

早在1980年代,吴明珠还在《海峡时报》任职的时候,她已经尝试翻译英培安的短篇小说。当时,她一口气翻译了《零食档上的女人》《影子里的人》《花园城市》等作品,这些译作后来刊登在《海峡时报》,这给了吴明珠很大的信心,也使到她后来能持续保有翻译文学作品的热情。

吴明珠说:“我喜欢翻译文学作品,因为文学翻译工作很具挑战,但至今,我只想翻译培安的作品。培安的小说很适合翻译,他不爱卖弄文字,很清楚传达自己的想法,同时我对他作品的讽刺性也有基本的认识。”

说到英译英培安的诗歌,吴明珠说:“翻译培安这一套诗歌,很困难,也很有挑战。”

她坦言自己特别欣赏英培安的诗作,“英培安的诗太好了,我觉得不译太可惜,他的诗作想象力丰富,意象突出,一些诗歌带有古文的韵味,值得反复赏析,如《儒生行》《拟古二首》等。”

为生活十几年没发表小说

1988年发表长篇小说《孤寂的脸》之后,有很长一段日子,英培安没有小说发表。

英培安说:“《孤寂的脸》之后,我一直很想写一部关于华校生与1950年代学生运动的小说,但为了生活,那段时间我都忙着为报章写专栏,此外,我也为丽的呼声写环境剧,如《大山与培培》,忙着赚稿费做家用,后来又忙着经营草根书室,这一拖就拖了十多年才又提笔。”

那期间,英培安曾在香港住了一年,在偏远的屯门租了个小单位,每天为《星岛日报》及《香港联合报》写专栏赚取生活费。一年后终究因为想家而回到新加坡。

时隔十余年,英培安又于2004年以长篇《骚动》问世,小说获得新加坡文学奖,后来也由本地英语作家程异(Jeremy Tiang)翻译成英文版“Un­rest”。

《骚动》以1950及1960年代新加坡为背景,故事与情节涉及当时的工潮、学潮等运动。《骚动》之后,英培安在2008年以长篇《我与我自 己的二三事》获得新加坡文学奖,这本小说也被香港《亚洲周刊》选为2006年“十大中文小说”。

两度患癌完成两部长篇

英培安近10年来饱受疾病困扰,但他始终凭着过人的意志对创作坚持不懈。2011年,英培安的长篇小说《画室》出版后获得广泛肯定并频频得奖,包括入选《亚洲周刊》“2011年度十大中文小说”及新加坡文学奖。《画室》并由意大利出版社Metropoli d'Asi­a推出意大利版“L'Ate­lier”,译者为意大利都灵大学(Uni­ver­sity of Turin) 中文讲师芭芭拉(Bar­bara Leonesi)。

2008年英培安患了癌症,近25万字的《画室》是他在罹患前列腺癌时,用四年时间完成的长篇。英培安说:“当年诊断出前列腺癌时,我的病情已是不轻,后来病情虽受到控制,但必须定期复诊。”

也许因为自己患上癌症,作家安排《画室》主人翁颜沛不但同样患上癌症,小说同时也描述患病男主人翁重病时的心理反应、医疗过程,与病魔搏斗的经过与心境变化。小说写了画室里面的故事,时代背景跨越半世纪,从1950年代写到当下,描写一群不同性格艺术家的不同命运,小说主题环绕着爱、孤独和死亡。

也因为《画室》,英培安还受邀前往意大利古城堡曼托瓦(Man­tua)参与国际作家节,译者芭芭拉并全程担任口译。在曼托瓦举行讲座时,意大利读者反应之踊跃,教英培安也感到意外。离开曼托瓦之后随即乘火车前往博洛尼亚(Bologna)和米兰接受媒体访问,宣传《画室》意大利版。

英培安说:“在我的创作生涯中,意大利之行是一次珍贵的经历,它也让我看到意大利人对文学的热爱。”

2015年,英培安又出版了取材粤剧的《戏服》。许多人不知道的是,在创作《戏服》期间,英培安又被诊断出患上大肠癌,这部小说因此也是在治病过程中,一点一滴在三年内完成的。在这期 间,他还去了广州、香港寻找有关粤剧的资料。

《戏服》既写广东大戏戏子学艺的故事,也写自1930年代,新加坡这80余年来不同时代的社会风貌。这部小说的主要人物是在30年代从广东乡下经广州、香港到新加坡来的两个同乡人,这两个性格迥异的少年做出了人生不同的抉择,展开各自的爱恨情仇与悲欢离合。

对英培安小说各有所爱

吴明珠说,她是英培安作品的第一个读者。英培安则说,他在创作过程中,常会与妻子分享一些情节,偶尔也会征求吴明珠做为读者的看法。英培安说:“我会听听她的意见,但不一定会接纳,听了之后经过自己再思考,觉得适合才会改变原来的写法。”

吴明珠直爽地说,在英培安的作品中,她最喜欢《画室》。她说:"因为《画室》反映的人和事很有普遍性,打破语言和文化的限制,而且人物形象鲜活。整部小说充满一种浪漫的色彩。”

在英培安看来,在他的长篇小说中,《画室》篇幅最长,人物最多,气势也较为恢弘。和过去不同的是,由于小说情节所需,在写《画室》的过程中,他还特地与吴明珠结伴去了趟巴黎、巴塞罗那,又因为小说人物“宁芳”去了印度马德拉斯(又称金奈,Chen­nai)学印度古曲,亲自走一趟小说人物的人生路线。

对于自己的长篇小说,英培安其实偏爱《孤寂的脸》。小说描绘了一个南大毕业生在事业、婚姻上长久以来所面临的内心困境,心理刻画十分细致。

英培安说:“很多人告诉我,他们喜欢《画室》,但《孤寂的脸》以不同的叙述方式书写,同一个人以你、我、他三个叙事观点呈现,不同的叙事观点让读者阅读时产生不同的感觉。用我做为叙事观点,读者会感觉作者的故事﹔用他,犹如别人的故事﹔用你,却似自己的故事。高行健也用了这样的写作手法,但我用这样的方式比高行健还早。我喜欢这部小说的写作手法,它也写得较其他作品细腻。”

最新小说思考老人问题

英培安认为,小说家最基本的条件是必须能够展现虚构的技艺与手法,他说:“历史是纪实的,小说却终究是小说,小说说到底是虚构的,小说家要有说故事的本领。”

英培安说,他的每一部小说都取材自不同阶段的人生经验,经过再创造与情节虚构;目前他仍忙于创作,手上是一部已写了五六万字的小说。故事主人翁为一个作家,并以第一人称的方式,描写作家的生存处境,以及他周遭的文化工作者,例如从事出版工作、搞舞台剧的人等等,小说也触及他对老人问题的思考。

英培安坦言,由于体力的关系,这部小说写得不是十分顺利,经常是在抱病状态下写作,他希望能坚持下去,将小说发展成长篇,在这两年内完成。

本地作家英培安的短篇小说集《不存在的情人》,由妻子吴明珠翻译成英文并出版。

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