My current book project is a little hard to explain, but I’ll try:
- I translated a seventeenth-century Chinese text, a detailed account of a tedious political imbroglio, into English.
- I extracted an intriguing subplot concerning a despicable family, resulting in a snappy 6000-word text.
- I transplanted the setting to contemporary Baltimore. My impulse was threefold:
- Chinese settings seem to discourage would-be readers, and Baltimore may prove more accessible;
- Chinese names are especially off-putting to would-be readers, so rendering Zhang Qi as Tinus Juckman, Gu Xiangtai as Morgan Schwartzenberg, and Chen Luqian as Ruckleshaus Schumacher will hopefully yield more memorable characters;
- Transplanting Chinese institutions such as eunuchs and public floggings to Baltimore produces a keen jarring effect.
- For fuller length and depth (and for the challenge) I am now employing an Oulipo method called larding, which means inserting one new sentence between every two sentences of a given text. The baseline translated/edited/transplanted 6000-word text has, as of this posting, been subjected to almost two full rounds of larding and currently stands at 22,000 words. I plan to lard it a total of three times.
I call it Meet Me at the RASCAL. Here is a choice sentence: “Tinka Klein and an oud player named Ashurbanipal, both naked and dreadlocked to the pubes, leapt back and forth between the modules of Goldie’s Italian leather sofa, trying to avoid collateral damage.”