All for the love of Rock and Roll
The money isn’t great but it is Dong Nan’s love for music that has made her a niche translator in China, translating books on rock and roll from English to Chinese.
In just a decade, Dong has translated 11 books – she’s working on her 12th – ranging from Jim Morrison’s “No One Here Gets out Alive”, Bob Spitz’s biography on The Beatles called, “The Beatles”, Kith Richard’s “Life”, Jimi Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors” to Chris Welch’s “David Bowie” from English to Chinese.
“I just love doing it. I don’t care about the money,” Dong said over coffee at a busy bookshop, the Bookworm, last weekend.
Back in the 90s, she saved her pocket-money to buy pirated cassettes of Nirvana and Guns N’s Roses from non-descript shops in Beijing; in China, it was the Beijing-based metal band, Tang Dynasty that was creating rock music waves.
Born of her passion for rock and roll, Dong’s first translated book on The Doors was published in 2008.
“It was 300 pages and took me six months to complete. I translated the book because I wanted to and wasn’t even sure if it will be published. Luckily, one publishing house already had the book’s rights and published it,” she said.
The publishing house clearly liked what they read and new projects haven’t stopped since.
Dong’s biggest project so far has been translating “The Beatles” – and to her, it was like spending time with them.
“It was some 900 pages. I literally spend a year with The Beatles every day. Everyone became familiar; right from their sound engineer to their manager”. And, that’s how she read about Indian sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar.
She also enjoyed translating “Waiting for the Man: The Life and Career of Lou Reed”.
“At the beginning of a translation you are a fan, in the end, you become a believer,” Dong said, explaining how the process of translation and her love for music often merge.
The money’s isn’t much of a factor.
“In the beginning, it was about 55 yuan (Rs.550) for every 1000 Chinese characters or 500 English words. Now, it’s about 80 yuan (Rs.800),” she said.
When not listening to music or poring over books on music, Dong works at the Chinese website of a leading western English newspaper.
She is now working on translating the critically acclaimed book on the history and influence of indie rock in the US, “Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991” by Michael Azerrad.
Dong said she would next love to translate a book on the philosophy behind the music of western punk groups like The Clash from the 1970s.