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Neither Here Nor There: Living and Loving Between China and America

来源:纽约时报    2018-07-31 06:46

By Lillian Li
290 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $27.
        《第一名中餐馆》 作者:李旻旻 290页,Henry Holt & Company出版社,27美元
By Spencer Wise
328 pp. Hanover Square Press. $26.99.
        《鞋皇》 作者:斯潘塞·怀斯 328页,Hanover Square Press出版社,26.99美元
        Culture and commerce have long been easy bedfellows in the complicated relationship between the United States and China, so it’s unsurprising that two first novels by young American authors, “Number One Chinese Restaurant,” by Lillian Li, and “The Emperor of Shoes,” by Spencer Wise, should feature a Chinese-American restaurant and an American-owned Chinese shoe factory, respectively, as the hubs in which lives, loves, languages and histories intersect.        在美国和中国复杂的关系中,文化和商业长期以来一直密不可分,所以两名年轻美国作家的小说处女作——李旻旻(Lillian Li)的《第一名中餐馆》(Number One Chinese Restaurant)和斯潘塞·怀斯(Spencer Wise)的《鞋皇》(The Emperor of Shoes),分别把一家美国的中餐馆和中国一家美国人开的制鞋厂,作为生活、爱情、语言和历史交汇的中心,也就不足为奇了。
        Li’s novel revolves around the tangled inner workings of the family-owned Beijing Duck House, in Rockville, Md., and the multigenerational enmities and aspirations of its owners and workers. The middle-aged Jimmy Han, who inherited the restaurant (along with its tired menu and timeworn décor) from his late father, hopes to open his own pan-Asian fusion restaurant in modish Georgetown. However, in order to realize his plan, he must rely on the financial clout of Uncle Pang, a shady, nine-fingered fixer, and obtain the consent of the family matriarch, Feng Fei.        李旻旻的小说围绕着马里兰州罗克维尔一家家族经营的北京烤鸭坊错综复杂的内幕活动、老板和员工跨越数代的敌意与渴望而展开。人到中年的吉米·韩在父亲过世时继承了这家餐厅(及其陈旧的菜单和过时的装修),他希望在时髦的乔治城开一家泛亚洲融合餐厅。然而,要实现自己的计划,他必须依靠庞伯伯的经济实力,这是一个鬼鬼祟祟、少一根手指头的幕后操纵者,并且还要获得家族的女族长冯菲的同意。
        For the elder, Chinese-born family members and workers, the Beijing Duck House has displaced Beijing itself as “the heart-center of the universe.” But among their largely directionless American-born offspring — including Annie, Johnny’s daughter, and Pat, the son of a manager named Nan — the attachment is more casual. Nan is in a bicoastal marriage (her husband owns a restaurant in California), which doesn’t stop her from developing a relationship with a fellow restaurant employee named Ah-Jack, a man a generation older and still married to his terminally ill wife. Goaded by Uncle Pang, Pat, along with an unwitting Annie, starts a fire that eventually guts the restaurant, forcing these long-simmering relationships and rivalries into sharp relief as priorities and allegiances are tested and reassessed.        对于那些上了年纪的人、在中国出生的家庭成员和工人来说,北京烤鸭坊取代北京,成为了“宇宙的中心”。但在大多数缺乏目标、于美国出生的后代当中,包括吉米的女儿安妮,以及餐厅楠经理的儿子帕特,情感就更为随意。楠经理有一段两岸婚姻(她的先生在加州开餐馆),这并没有阻碍她跟一个名叫阿杰克的餐厅员工发生不正当关系,对方不仅年长她一代,而且妻子病入膏肓。在庞伯伯的怂恿下,帕特和不知情的安妮放火将餐馆焚毁,迫使酝酿已久的关系和对抗得到显著缓解,各种优先事项和忠诚都得以检验和重新评估。
        Although Li’s prose can be uninspired (“the trouble with life was that life needed trouble”), more often it engrosses, especially when she allows the external world into the virtually airtight space of the restaurant, as she does when describing Jimmy’s camaraderie with the multiethnic cohort of kitchen cooks outside working hours, or Ah-Jack’s affecting relationship with Nan. For the most part, though, Li’s fictional America is suggestively insubstantial, her characters seemingly unable to step outside “the shadow of the Duck House,” itself a metaphor for their “Chineseness” in the United States — whether perceived or self-imposed.        虽然李旻旻的文笔有时候可能缺乏想象力(“生活的麻烦就在于生活需要麻烦”),但更多时候,还是引人入胜的,尤其是当她允许外部世界进入餐馆近乎密闭的空间,描述吉米与餐厅一群来自不同种族的厨子在工作时间之外的友情,或者阿杰克跟楠之间令人动容的感情时。不过,总的来说,李旻旻所虚构的美国散发着虚幻气息,她笔下的角色似乎无法踏出“烤鸭坊的阴影”,它本身就是他们在美国的“中国性”的隐喻——不管是感知到的还是自我强加的。
        Questions of family and identity also figure prominently in Wise’s first novel. Alex Cohen, a 26-year-old Jewish Bostonian and partner in his father’s shoe factory in southern China, falls in love with a factory worker-cum-clandestine union organizer named Ivy. Soon he’s acting on a newfound commitment to workers’ rights, which appears incompatible with his father’s bottom line and the vigilant gaze of local Communist Party officials.        在怀斯的第一部小说中,家庭和身份也是突出议题。26岁的犹太裔波士顿人亚历克斯·科恩是他父亲在中国南部一家制鞋厂的合伙人,他爱上了工厂的一名女工艾薇,她同时也是一名秘密的工会组织者。很快,他开始支持工人权益,这似乎跟父亲的底线以及当地共产党官员的警惕目光相对立。
        Garrulous, jocular and culturally insensitive, Alex’s father, Fedor, is wedded to the status quo — outdated shoe designs and the bribes to party officials necessary to ensure his factory’s smooth operation. Wise has also endowed Fedor’s character with an exaggerated Jewish-American identity, one marked by Yiddishisms and shtick and often verging on caricature. (“Vey iz mir!” Fedor says in a typical passage. “We’re shoe men, Alex, artists! Have I slaughtered a bull lately? Have you?”)        亚历克斯的父亲费多尔唠叨、风趣、对文化不敏感、安于现状——他使用过时的鞋子设计,并且贿赂党的官员,以保证工厂顺利运行。怀斯还让费多尔的性格充满夸张的犹太裔美国人特点,以对意第绪语的崇拜和滑稽场面为标志,往往很有讽刺漫画的感觉。 (“唉呀呀!”在一个典型的段落里,费多尔说道。“我们是鞋匠,亚历克斯,艺术家!我最近杀了一头公牛吗?你呢?”)
        Throughout his time in China, Alex is haunted by the question of belonging: He is not strictly American, by virtue of his expatriate status, but nor is he Chinese. (Locals refer to him as gweilo, or “ghost man,” in Cantonese.) His sense of purpose and identity gradually emerge through his involvement with Ivy, a veteran of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, and her (fictional) Democratic Revolutionary Party, which he allows to organize a workers’ strike at his father’s factory.        在中国期间,亚历克斯一直受到归属感的困扰:由于移居国外,他不是严格意义上的美国人,但他也不是中国人。 (当地人用粤语称他为“鬼佬”。)他和参加了1989年天安门广场抗议活动的艾维交往,并且参与了她(虚构的)民主革命党的活动,由此开始逐渐产生目的感和认同感。他允许民主革命党在他父亲的工厂里组织工人罢工。
        Despite nods to recent Chinese history, Wise’s novel stands on shaky ideological ground. Only through a relationship with a disadvantaged Chinese factory worker does his privileged American protagonist come to affirm what are understood to be Western values of equality and human rights, a plotline that risks reducing China and its problems to mere cultural props in a Western man’s coming-of-age story. With Chinese novels increasingly available in English translations, readers wishing to avoid such Western-centrism might consider provocative alternatives like Lu Nei’s “Young Babylon,” and Sheng Keyi’s “Northern Girls.” (“Factory Girls,” a nonfiction account by Leslie T. Chang, and “Iron Moon,” an anthology of poetry by Chinese workers, also provide illuminating depictions of factory life.)        尽管对中国近期的历史有所提及,但怀斯的小说仍然建立在摇摇欲坠的意识形态基础之上。只有同一个身处劣势的中国工人谈恋爱,他笔下拥有特权的美国男主人公才能肯定何谓西方的平等和人权价值观,这种情节有可能使中国及其问题沦为一个西方男性成长故事中的文化道具。随着中国小说越来越多地被翻译为英文,希望避免这种西方中心主义的读者可能会考虑更具挑衅性的其他选择,诸如路內的《少年巴比伦》和盛可以的《北妹》。张彤禾的非虚构作品《工厂女孩》和中国工人的诗集《铁做的月亮》也提供了关于工厂生活的启发性描述。
        Nevertheless, both “Number One Chinese Restaurant” and “The Emperor of Shoes” underscore the extent to which the promise of economic opportunity still moves people across great distances on our planet. The Greek root of the word “planet” — planetes — means a wanderer or traveler, and in the sense that we are increasingly global citizens, we are all wanderers. After all, to travel is to experience the volatility of identity and the uncertainty of home. “So we’re the bridge,” Alex says to an American-born friend in Wise’s novel. To which his friend replies: “Right. The middle step. We ain’t Chinese, but we ain’t American. We live here, from there. Inbetweeners.”        然而,《第一名中餐厅》和《鞋皇》都强调了在很大程度上,更好的经济机会仍会让人们在我们这个行星上远距离迁徙。“行星”(planet)这个词的希腊词源是“planetes”,它的意思是流浪者或旅行者,从这个意义上来说,我们愈是成为全球公民,就愈是成为流浪者。毕竟,旅行是为了体验身份的波动性与家园的不确定性。 “所以我们是桥梁,”在怀斯的小说中,亚历克斯对一个在美国出生的朋友说。朋友回答:“对。位于中间的东西。我们不是中国人,但我们也不是美国人。我们住在这里,我们来自那里。夹缝中的人。”
        In our current climate of exclusionary politics based on privileged citizenships, how much more empathetic it would be to acknowledge the shared “in between” moments of our existence. As Alex reflects at one point, “I pictured myself at peace, in a place where I stood out so goddamn bad that I finally fit in.” In this respect, both Li and Wise have written novels of our times.        在我们目前基于特权公民身份的排他性政治气氛中,承认我们的生活中都有这样的“夹缝”时刻,会让人产生更多共情。正如亚历克斯在某个时刻所想的那样,“我在平静中审视着自己,在一个让我显得非常突出、非常糟糕的地方,然而我终于适应了这里。”在这方面,李旻旻和怀斯都写出了属于我们时代的小说。

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