From the other side

I found myself in a bookstore last week and decided to do the only honorable thing: buy a book. I chose something in Chinese that I guessed would be [somewhat] easy to read: a translation of Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country.

Wikipedia says it is often named “one of the seminal literary works of the 1980s.” This is a title often shared by yours truly, making the fact that I had never heard of In Country all the more puzzling.

As I read, I try to guess what the English probably is. How would this character have said that line? What 1980s American English word would cause a Chinese translator to select those characters? Etc.

By far, the best part is the helpful footnotes, which contain enlightening little explanations for such unrecognizably exotic references as Chevy Chase, Bruce Springsteen, Walter Mondale, and the Talking Heads. Unfortunately, I am still left in the dark about the identity of a certain late-night comedy host whose name is transliterated as Qiong Li’wei’er. I would like to ask  you to help me figure out who that would be, but you will need a few points of reference:

Walter Mondale = Wo’er’te Meng’dai’er

Geraldine Ferraro = Jie’la’er’ding  Fei’la’luo

Jim Morrison = Ji’mu  Mo’li’sen

Bruce Springsteen = Bu’lai’si  Si’pu’lin’si’ting

Chevy Chase = Sai’wei  Cai’si

Lorenzo Jones = Luo’lun’zuo  Qiong’si

Kentucky = Ken’de’ji

Emmit = Ai’mi’te

Sam = Shan’mu

Washington = Hua’sheng’dun

Lexington = Lei’ke’xing’dun


Got it? Good. I’m counting on you.

My favorite footnote yet came hanging off the edge of the teenage protagonist’s question to her teenage boyfriend, something like:

“Where on Earth did you get the beer?”¹

¹ By American law, you must be 21 years of age to consume alcohol. Stores that sell alcohol to anyone below 21 years of age will be punished, so young people who buy alcohol are usually asked to show identification. The law also states that, when consuming alcohol in a public space, the label must be covered. Thus, stores usually sell bottled alcohol inside brown paper bags.


Reading that on the metro, I could not help making a little swoosh motion with my hand (like a shooting star) and sing-whispering,  “The more you knooooow!


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