Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The biggest book craze in China right now? James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Iconic Irish author James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake has been published in China.

Shawn Pogatchnik/AP

A new Chinese translation of Finnegans Wake, renowned for its linguistic difficulty in the original, is proving a hit in China – although one academic called the Irish author James Joyce "mentally ill."

The first-ever mainland Chinese edition of the novel sold out its initial print run of 8,000 copies just three weeks after being launched in December, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Translator Dai Congrong of Shanghai's Fudan University toiled for eight years to render the work about an Irish family into Chinese, imitating the stream-of-consciousness style and unusual language, it said.

Story continues below advertisement

It quoted Wang Weisong of the Shanghai People's Publishing House, which released the book, as saying its success was "totally unexpected."

Both the translator and the publisher declined to comment on Tuesday.

Chinese readers are already familiar with other works of the early-20th-century writer. The Chinese edition of Ulysses, considered his masterpiece, went on sale in 1995.

Literary critic Liu Wei told a recent seminar on Finnegans Wake that the book – the plot of which remains open to interpretation – deserves respect.

"Modern writers share a common sense of doing interesting textual experiments … among this group of writers, Joyce has the most intensive sense of all," he said, according to an online transcript.

"I think it deserves our respect that Joyce created such a rich text."

But one reader, who gave the name Eudaimonus, said in a microblog posting that the work was not accessible to all.

Story continues below advertisement

"Finnegans Wake is a book for book collectors and critics, but not for readers," the posting said.

Others were more emphatic. Xinhua quoted Jiang Xiaoyuan, a professor at Shanghai's Jiaotong University, as saying: "Joyce must have been mentally ill to create such a novel."

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨