In 2004, Dai Congron, a professor at Fudan University and vice dean of the Chinese language and literature department, decided to start what seemed like a nearly impossible task: translating James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” into Chinese. It took her eight years to finish translating the first part of the book which is considered one of the most obscure and complex pieces of the English literature, the Chinese translation of which was finally released in December, 2012. The hard work paid off when the book became a success in China, selling the initial 8,000 copies and having to be reprinted for 5,000 more which can be found in bookstores across the country.
To achieve her aim, Dai had to endure a low pay which forced her to continue working and teaching at university, while dealing with Finnegans Wake’s unconventional narrative structure and use of language at the same time. When asked why she decided to go through such a complex task, Dai answered she wants the book to work as an inspiration to take literature seriously and made reference to her own experience when she read the Chinese translation of Joyce’s Ulyses and how it scarred her.
The deluxe version of the book is being sold for the equivalent of around $26 and comes in a box with Joyce’s biography and a bookmark. A great part of the book’s success can be said to be due to the strong advertising campaign in magazines, stores and online webpages. The publisher has already agreed on supporting Dai until she finishes the translation of the entire book, something which is expected to take at least another eight years.