Chinese translator brings Leon Uris' most controversial novel 'A God in Ruins' to China

Updated 2017-03-31 11:00:37 Global Times
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Chinese version of A God in Ruins Photo: Courtesy of New World Press

“What Leon Uris admires is one of the things the U.S. typically values the most: great power. And what has great power in the U.S.? Money. Trump's win more or less reflects the speculative mind-set of the U.S. people.”

Gao Weimin

Chinese translator of A God in Ruins

The Chinese version of A God in Ruins, a novel about a U.S. presidential race, was published in November 2016, the very same month that Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S. This timing, as well as the similarities between the fictional and real elections, served to increase Chinese readers' curiosity about the book.

“The climax of this novel - the campaign between the two characters - is a mirror that reflects the madness of the recent real-life election. It's a violent and chaotic political fight full of conspiracy and slander, during which time the fate of the country unfortunately is decided by the win or loss of one individual,” Shen Yamei, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Path to publication

Since the book, written by U.S. author Leon Uris and originally published in 1999, features a fictional 2008 election in which ethnic conflict plays a very large role, Gao Weimin, the translator of the Chinese version, originally wanted to have it published in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.

However, copyright issues prevented him from doing so. The original novel's copyright owner, Harper Collins Publishers, asked for the copyrights to the Chinese translation, which publisher China Youth Press refused to do. Eventually, Gao ended his cooperation with China Youth Press and turned to New World Press, which agreed to the copyright deal.

After eight years of waiting, the Chinese version was finally published by Beijing-based New World Press in November 2016.

The story features Quinn Patrick O'Connell, a Democratic candidate who was adopted by a Catholic family as a baby and long dreamed of becoming the next Catholic U.S. president after John F. Kennedy. After years of struggle, he gains the love and respect of the American people. However, right before the election, he discovers his birth parents are Jewish - information that causes him to lose any chance at winning the election.

“The problems of anti-semitism and White Supremacy are also highlighted by Uris. All the characters in the fiction, from elites to ordinary people, can't escape their tragic fates because of their ethnicity,” Shen said.

So far, the book holds an 8.7/10 on Chinese media review site Douban and has sold more than 7,000 copies.

Topical issues

Leon Uris (1924-2003), a U.S. soldier-turned-novelist, rose to fame for his political and historical novels. His two bestsellers Exodus (1958), about the founding of the State of Israel, and Trinity (1976), a book on Irish nationalism, were both translated into Chinese by Gao and published in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

In an interview in January, Gao sat down with the Global Times to analyze Uris' insights into the issues the U.S. faces today.

According to Gao, after the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865, it took the U.S. only around 100 years to grow into a great country. Most of Uris' life went hand in hand with the growth of U.S. national power, giving him an interesting perspective on that time period.

In the novel A God in Ruins, Uris touched on religious issues, gun control, the power of the Internet and the threat of political scandals, many of which the U.S. is struggling with today.

“It was a time when everyone paid attention to U.S. foreign affairs, Middle Eastern issues and the country's relationship with Russia, for example, Gao noted. ”But Uris focused on the U.S.' internal problems - very practical problems that need solutions.“

Gao first began translating Uris' novels in 2007. It was then that Gao noticed the author's admiration for the symbol that was the U.S. dollar.

He noticed one passage in which a U.S. journalist mocked a British journalist by saying that the British rule their country with rudeness, while Americans do so with money.

Talking about the ethical conflicts featured in A God in Ruins, Gao said Uris didn't choose to feature this plot by accident but due to his observations of one of the issues the U.S. was bound to face someday.

”It is inevitable for U.S. social development. What Leon Uris admires is one of the things the U.S. typically values the most: great power. And what has great power in the U.S.? Money,“ Gao noted.

Gao further explained that ”when a country's economic situation is doing well, society is stable, but if the economic situation gets worse, change happens.“

”Trump's win more or less reflects the speculative mind-set of the U.S. people," Gao said.

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