Not lost in translation
Hoaøng Thuùy Toaøn has devoted his life to translating poetry by Russian author Alexander Pushkin into Vietnamese, working hard to capture the soul of the writing.
Hoaøng Thuyù Toaøn aspires to build a cultural bridge between Vieät Nam and Russia by translating the works of great Russian poets.
The 76-year-old in the northern province of Baéc Ninh's Phuø Löu Village specialises in Alexander Pushkin’s poetry.
"He translates sowell that I can learn a poem by heart very quickly. But more importantly, I can learn about Russian poetry through his translations," said writer Nguyeãn Vaên Toaïi.
After graduating from the Literature Department of the Lenin Pedagogy University in Moscow in 1961, Toaøn devoted his life to translating Russian poetry.
Russian literature arrived in Vieät Nam before the August Revolution in 1945 and became popular in the 1950s through translations by literary critic and writer Vuõ Ngoïc Phan and poet Hoaøng Trung Thoâng as well as many others.
Toaøn composed many poems and stories published in Vietnamese and Russian newspapers, but he felt his compositions were "dim" compared with those by Russian writers.
The idea came to him to translate Russian poems into Vietnamese so those who didn't know Russian could enjoy them.
By his fourth year at the Russian university, Toaøn had translated many Pushkin’s poems and sent them to the Literature Publishing House. The excellent penmanship of the translations made people think they were written by a female.
"I asked my girlfriend (now my wife) to help me write my translated poems," Toaøn recalled.
He translated about 70 poems by the author, devoting himself wholeheartedly to each.
Writer Toaïi said that through Toaøn's translation he could sense a patriotic atmosphere and thirst for freedom, as well as a fierce and immense concealed sadness.
"When reminded of Pushkin, Vietnamese readers think of Thuyù Toaøn," he said.
The poems translated by Toaøn as well as famous poets Xuaân Dieäu, Hoaøng Trung Thoâng and Teá Hanh helped Vietnamese understand Russian literature, he added.
Toaøn typically spends one night to translate a poem, although he has sometimes done three in a night. But one poem, A Winter Morning, took 30 years.
In 1956, he was among 20 students chosen to attend university in Russia. During the winter holiday, a young teacher took students on a skiing trip. Winter in Russia was "wildly beautiful and strange", he recalled, with "immense hills and mountains covered in white snow" and "forests where some trees were bare and other pine trees were still green."
The teacher read the poem
A Winter Morning in a very expressive voice, making him immediately take notice. That night, he took out his dictionary and tried to translate it to Vietnamese.
"But I got stuck on the poem's first sentence. I spent the whole night thinking about it," said Toaøn.
Later he had translated many Pushkin’s poems, but A
Winter Morning was still not finished, although he "understood its soul".
For that reason, the poem did not appear in his first book, Pushkin’s Romantic
Poems, printed by the Literature Publishing House in 1966.
In 1987 on the 150th death anniversary of the poet, he felt a deep longing for Russian winter and each word from the poem suddenly made sense.
Reading his translated poems also made those who once studies and lived in Russia feel nostalgic for its winters, said Toaïi.
Toaøn had to learn ancient Russian and collect more than
Notable translator “When reminded of Pushkin, people think of Thuùy Toaøn.”
20 different modern Russian editions to translate the collection The Song of Igor’s Campaign, an Epic of Twelfth
Century, a very difficult work that could push a translator to the edge of failure.
"I worked very hard month after month to convey the soul of the work in Vietnamese," he said.
He has translated hundreds of Russian and Vietnamese books, written hundreds of newspaper articles in Russian and Vietnamese and held five exhibitions displaying Russian literature objects at culture centres in Haø Noäi.
In 2010 he was honoured to be received by President Dmitry Medvedev, who presented him with a Friendship Medal in the Kremlin Palace.
He hopes to build a Russian Literature Commemorative House in his native village of Phuø Löu.
"I wish to contribute a small thing to my ancient culture village, which is very sacred to keep such valuable objects," Toaøn said.
Prolific: Thuùy Toaøn has translated hundreds of books from Russian to Vietnamese and Vietnamese to Russian.
Rewarding work: President Dmitry Medvedev presented Toaøn with the Russian Friendship medal in 2010.