Yan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012 for his work as a writer who “with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”, said cultural exchange can give people a better understanding of people from different countries.
The writer, who has been compared to Joseph Heller and Franz Kafka, was speaking at a press conference in Istanbul as part of a Turkish Government initiative which saw 100 Chinese intellectuals visit the country on a week-long tour.
“Reading books is a kind of in-depth understanding by the people of different countries,” Yan argued. But he noted that the “main problem” between Chinese and Turkish literature is “the lack of translated books”.
“I could only have the chance to read the works of Orhan Pamuk as he was the only Turkish writer whose books have been translated into Chinese, and Turkish readers probably only read my works [among other Chinese writers],” he said.
Pamuk, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006 and is Turkey’s bestselling writer, met with Yan recently and the two authors agreed to do more to promote the translation of literary works between the two countries.
“I am sure that Orhan Pamuk would support the translation projects,” Yan said. “I want my visit to Turkey to provide a breakthrough in that context.”
The 100 Chinese intellectuals’ project, seen as one of the most significant initiatives in the history of Chine-Turkey relations, was organised in 2013.
Turkish project coordinator Rahmi Ozgirgin said: “The project revealed the fact that the two ancient civilizations have a lot in common to share and the cultural exchange is the most important way to demolish prejudice between the two communities.”
Yan said his visit to Turkey had inspired him. “I may well use the ancient cultural touch of Hagia Sophia as the main setting for a future book,” he said, referring to the former church and mosque considered a piece of classic Byzantine architecture.
“In every corner of the Hagia Sophia, you can feel the touch of the peoples of antiquity. It is a living document that has been left from the past,” the writer added.
Yan himself is among the finalists for a prize recognising fiction translated into English.
The Best Translated Book Award from Three Percent, a literature hub based at the University of Rochester, US, has longlisted Yan’s Sandalwood Death, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt.
Twenty countries and 16 languages are represented on the list.
Photo credit: AP