Review: Uxang Guj kaj Li Sxjangsxjang (Don HARLOW)

Ŭang Guj kaj Li Ŝjangŝjang

by Li Ĝji

Translated by Laŭlum. Beijing: Ĉina Esperanto-Eldonejo, 1985. 41p.

recenzas Don HARLOW

   This little book, very nicely bound, is a long poem by a Chinese Communist poet of the 1940s and 1950s. It tells a more or less standard story -- boy meets girl, boy almost loses girl, boy and girl live happily ever after -- against the backdrop of revolutionary China. And very well he does it, too.

   The main characters are landowner Cuj, young Ŭang Guj, and beautiful Li Ŝjangŝjang. In the first part of the story, Cuj has Ŭang's father killed, then "adopts" the young man as a virtual slave. Ŭang meets and falls in love with Ŝjangŝjang, who, however, is also the object of the vile Cuj's evil lusts. In the second part, the revolution, in which Ŭang has a role, reaches the village. Cuj is driven away, the young lovers marry, and Ŭang goes off to fight in the guerrilla war. In the third and last part, the White Army returns and reinstalls Cuj, who attempts to force Ŝjangŝjang to become his concubine and plaything (obviously he likes a woman of spirit), but the (Red) cavalry return just in time and Cuj gets his well-deserved comeuppance.

   The story is fun to read, and easy enough to read at one sitting. The politics are an integral part of the swtory, but that should not prevent any Esperantist from enjoying it.

   My major problem is with the poetic technique of our respected academician, who did the translation. I know that I should not try to teach my grandmother to suck eggs, and furthermore much of the style may have been forced on him by the original. Nevertheless:

   The story is told in couplets; each line (with a few exceptions) is in iambic hexameter, with an unstressed syllable tagged onto the end (almost a necessity for a poem of this size in Esperanto). This particular form, according to Waringhien (Parnasa Gvidlibro, 3rd edition, page 44) should be proscribed because of its accompanying problems. Laŭlum has faced those problems and largely been defeated by them.

   The major problem is the forced pause in the middle of the fourth iamb. The pause not only breaks up each line into one iambic and one trochaic section, but also, because of the way in which the verse is written, often occurs in the middle of words, prepositional phrases, etc.

   A second problem, forced by the meter, is that in manhy cases the stress is forced onto the final vowel of a word -- an intolerable situation in Esperanto. Finally, the translator has an occasional tendency to elide the -O ending from roots that, by themselves, are unpronounceable (sabl', tigr', obstakl', etc.). These last two problems seem to me the result, not of the original structure of the poem itself, but of lack of attentiveness or polishing work on the part of the translator.

   With all that having been said, I can -- with those technical reservations -- recommend the book to the interested reader.

   If the editor will permit, I would also like to make a comment here about Esperanto and the publishing industry. A competent and well-known American Esperantist recently said to me that he fears that people will come to think of Esperanto as some sort of Chinese dialect, because of the amount of material published in Esperanto in China. The implication was that this may be dangerous for the Esperanto movement in our country.

   Such may indeed be the case, but if it happens, whom are we to blame -- the Chinese, who respect Esperanto as a useful tool for communicating with the rest of the world? Or does the fault lie more in ourselves? In China I not only bought about eight new Chinese books at the U.K. in Beijing; I also bought two or three new Esperanto books, and half a dozen Chinese Esperanto textbooks, in bookstores in Beijing, Nanking and Shanghai. When was the last time you saw an Esperanto textbook in an American bookstore? When was the last time you saw Esperanto literature in an American bookstore? When was the last time you saw an Esperanto book of any kind published in the U.S.A.? (1)

   What is the solution? We can, of course, boycott this flood of Chinese publications in Esperanto, and perhaps help to drive the Chinese Esperanto publishing industry out of business (Ĉina Esperanto-Eldonejo is required to show a modicum of that most capitalist of substances, black ink). This will not help Esperanto. We may also choose to look to ourselves to see whether or not our national Esperanto movement has a potential role to play in the world of Esperanto literature. That choice is ours.


(1) This is considerably less of a problem today (1999) than it was twelve hears ago when this was written.

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