Marquez novel gets authorised release in Chinese

A Chinese publisher is set to bring out the first ever authorised edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in Chinese, after winning an auction for the rights with a fee reported to be in excess of $1million.

Pirated editions of the Nobel prize-winning author’s most famous novel — “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race,” according to William Kennedy — have been rife in China for decades. The piracy so enraged Marquez on a visit to the country in 1990 that he swore that even 150 years after his death his books would not be authorised in China, according to Chinese newspaper the Global Times.

But Thinkingdom House editor-in-chief Chen Mingjun refused to take no for an answer, writing a letter to the author in 2008 which according to the Global Times read: “We pay our respects to you across the Pacific Ocean, making every effort, shouting ‘great master!’ just like you did to your idol Ernest Hemingway across the streets in Paris — We believe that you’d also wave your hand and shout back ‘Hello friend!’ just like Hemingway did.”

Thinkingdom House emerged triumphant from the auction for the Chinese rights in One Hundred Years of Solitude which followed. The Beijing-based publisher also publishes Chinese editions of books by authors including AS Byatt and Zadie Smith. It will publish the book this summer, and is also promising a crackdown on pirated editions of Marquez’s story of generations of the Buendia family.

Jo Lusby, managing director of Penguin China, which publishes the English language edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, said the size of the advance had “already created an enormous amount of interest” in the novel, despite it being “widely available in pirated forms for a long time”.

“I think they’ll be lucky if they can meaningfully address the presence of cheap pirated formats out on the streets, though,” she said.

The deal, however, “does serve to demonstrate why China is at a fascinating point”, she added. “Even at a time when writers and artists [such as Ai Weiwei] are disappearing in crackdowns, publishers are bullish about the future, and it’s one of the few places in the world where you can attend the opening of a large scale chain bookstore [I went to one in Beijing two weekends ago],” she said.

Whether paying such a large sum of money for a book is a sign of health in the Chinese literary market, or a warning that the market may be overheating is less clear, she continued, “but this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, and with a bit of luck it will instead be something of a major publishing event rather than the symptom of a mania”. —

Staff Reporter
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