Notoriously Difficult James Joyce Novel Becomes Surprise Best Seller In China

Business Insider

Last month we saw the somewhat odd reports that a 150-year-old French history book, Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution, had become a surprise best seller in China.

Now we have another bizarre best seller to add to the list. A new Chinese translation of James Joyce's notorious experimental novel Finnegans Wake has apparently sold out in its first print run of 8,000, the AP reports.

Amazingly, the translation was only published for the first time on December 25.

While the success of the Tocqueville book seems to be due to the fact that the book was widely recommended by Chinese officials to Communist Party members (it deals with the French Revolution and the subsequent fallout), the success of Finnegans Wake seems to come down to something more simple: advertising.

This AP photo below shows one of the huge billboards erected for the book around Shanghai, an unusual publicity move for a book publisher.

 

The long book is renowned as one of the most difficult and experimental of Joyce's career. Dai Congrong, the translator, reportedly took 8 year to translate it. For the first two years she reportedly didn't even write a single word. "It was dull and depressing," she told Reuters.

The book — which contains many words that Joyce made up himself — runs to 755 pages in Chinese.

In an interview with the New York Times' Arts Blog, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a historian at the University of California, Irvine, says that there appears to be a new found interest in books once banned and branded "decadent" by the Communist Party.



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