Photo from Hongling Zhang
Mrs. Zhang’s Summer Book Tour
Hongling Zhang came from speaking almost no English, to translating a book from English to Chinese for a famous Israeli author
October 8, 2019
Growing up in the Hubei Province of China, Hongling Zhang always had a passion for writing. Little did she know, she would one day be translating a book for A.B. Yehoshua, a household name in Israel.
Zhang grew up with her grandmother in Hong Hu, a town that she recalls being full of beautiful lakes and lotus flowers that were scattered around the ground. Her grandmother would often tell Zhang stories throughout her childhood. This is one of the reasons for Zhang’s love of literature.
“She was a natural storyteller,” Zhang said, referring to her grandmother, “She gave me the first kind of literature education.” Zhang wanted to be a writer, but her parents preferred for her to have a more stable career and told her to pursue law instead.
Zhang attended Wuhan University for Law school in China to satisfy her parents. After graduating from law school, like many young adults in China, Zhang traveled to America for additional education. Although she had previously learned English at her other schools, she was not prepared for the speed and difficulty of the language awaiting in the States. She said,
“I had a long time of English learning experiences. But when I came here, I realized I couldn’t say any words. I didn’t understand anything.”
Eventually, she became used to understanding English and also became comfortable with speaking English. Initially, Zhang attended Fontbonne for two years, to study English, but then was accepted to Washington University for a creative writing program lasting two years. She received her MFA in creative writing before beginning to teach college-level classes such as creative writing and Chinese language and culture. Eventually, she moved on to teaching high school and became a Chinese language teacher at CHS.
Even though some may think that learning a language and working a full-time teaching job may be enough on someone’s plate, Zhang also has made an effort to keep in touch with her literary roots. She is currently working on her own novel and just finished her two-year journey of translating A.B. Yehoshua’s Continuing Silence of a Poet from English to Chinese.
“I learned English just by translating so much because every day when I got home and I would do one page or half a page and that just forced me to think and to write in English,” said Zhang. Now she translates books in her free time whenever she gets the chance. The latest book she translated from English to Chinese was originally written in Hebrew. The name of that book was called The Continuing Silence of a Poet by A.B. Yehoshua. This was book her first that she translated from English to Chinese. The other books she translated from Chinese to English.
For this book, she had the opportunity to fly to China for a book tour. During the tour, she went to four different cities and participated in meet and greets, answering questions from readers in the audience. Unlike American book tours where the author/translator will read passages of their book and answer questions, Zhang had to make a speech about the book and talk about the author’s life.
Even though the process of translating this book was difficult for Zhang, she said, “I was very glad that I translated this writer because I learned so much from him and about my own writing.”