The Translator Shares a Soul with the Author

Chen Liang Podstavek was born and raised in Beijing. Her first contact with Slovak language happened when she was a student of International Studies at Peking University from which she holds a dual baccalaureate in Slovak language and diplomacy. After finishing her studies at Peking University, she continued studying Slovak language at the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University, receiving a Masters and later a doctoral degree. She now works at the Slovak Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei. She translated seven children’s books into Chinese and seven children’s books from Chinese into Slovak.

What drew you to Slovak literature for children and what motivated you to translate it into Chinese?

My theses [at the Slovak Language Department of the Faculty of Arts] researched ethno-cultural differences and similarities between Slovak and Chinese fairy tales. Later, we became parents and I read a lot with my children. Children’s literature fascinates me. It represents a world in which love, trust and peace still dominate. When I’m translating, I’m learning new things and at the same time I’m relaxing.

What was your first experience with translating?

The first book I had translated from Slovak into Chinese was Medvedica Ingrid (Ingrid the Bear). While I was reading the Slovak text, Chinese sentences started forming in my mind. As if I were telling the tale to my children. It wasn’t difficult. For the book Nie je opica ako opica (No Two Monkeys Are the Same) I was researching encyclopedias of primates and consulting terminology with the author to arrive at the best possible translation.

At the office where I work my domain is administration and accounting. Translation was a job that I did bit by bit on the side. Illustrated books took less time; books with more text required an everyday effort. None of the translations were made to order; I chose all of them myself. Thanks to that I never had fixed deadlines.

I know from personal experience that it can be tough to find foreign publishers for Slovak books. It’s arduous work that requires a lot of time and patience. How were you able to publish so many books within two years?

I met with a lot of rejection in the beginning. The first time it happened was when I translated the book Babička Joyce (Granny Joyce) from Chinese into Slovak. The publishing house Lúč rejected the book at first; however, later they decided to publish it. I still remember this experience vividly – it gives me strength as well as comfort. We have a beautiful saying in Chinese: Good alcohol isn’t afraid of a long alley. A good, quality book will find its publisher.

Before 2018, there was only one illustrated book written by a Slovak author in Taiwan. It was Prečo nekvitneš? (Why Aren’t You in Bloom?) by Katarína Macurová. It had been translated into Chinese from English. Even the people in the publishing house didn’t know that the author was from Slovakia. Since 2018, I was able to orchestrate the publishing of numerous Slovak books thanks to the grant program SLOLIA.

My husband and I promoted these books in town libraries and schools where we told children about Slovakia and its culture. You could say that thanks to these children’s books, Slovakia became more visible all over Taiwan. Today, these books are available in every state library. During the debates with children and parents, I felt like people really came to like these books.

Are you aware of any differences between Taiwanese and Slovak children’s books?

In short, I would say that children’s and YA books from all over the world are quite similar these days due to globalization. The themes of children’s books can be counted on the fingers of one hand: friendship and love, family relationships, animals and nature, difficulties and pains of various age stages… However, writers from different countries put their distinctive cultural backgrounds and experiences into their books and these give their texts an inimitable charm. In Slovakia, people say that a person multiplies with each language they master. I think it’s very important for children to read books from different corners of the world, not only from their home country. Books not only open eyes, they open hearts.

What is the trend in children’s-books publishing in Taiwan? What is more popular: picture books or textual books with fewer illustrations?

I have to say that the so-called picture books are very popular in Taiwan. When I first entered the children’s books floor of the largest bookstore in Taipei, ESLITE, I was amazed. It’s the kingdom of children’s books. Almost one third of them is by Taiwanese authors and illustrators. About half of the translated books hail from English-speaking countries, followed by French and Italian titles. The other half consists mainly of books from Japan and South Korea.

What was your strategy when choosing titles that you presented to Taiwanese publishers?

At first I read a couple of Slovak books for children as a reader. Some of them touched or interested me deeply and I wanted to share them with people who speak my mother tongue. Up until now, seven children’s book from Slovakia had been published in Taiwan, but in reality the number of books I had translated and submitted to publishers is larger. I did it because I wished to prove to Taiwanese publishers that there are fantastic, attention-worthy children’s books being published in Slovakia.

Are there enough children in Taiwan who read or do they mostly prefer playing on their cell phones and computers?

Taiwan has a very modern and advanced community and so it is normal that children enjoy playing on their cell phones and ipads. But that doesn’t contradict reading. Teachers and parents consider reading very important. Teachers encourage children to borrow books from the library regularly and to note down impressions from what they’ve read in a reader’s diary. Each school regularly invites popular writers to talk to children about the stories they have read.

Do you think the stories from Slovak children’s books are relatable in Taiwan?

That’s a big yes. Let’s take the book Medvedica Ingrid (Ingrid the Bear), for example. Black bears live in the mountains of Taiwan. After reading this book, children started thinking about how they should treat large wild animals. We had the book launch in the Taipei ZOO. Can you imagine that I even danced with my daughter and with other parents and children to the song Medveďku, daj labku?

Slovakia and Taiwan have a lot in common, geographically. Both capitals are located on one side of the country whereas the second largest cities are across the state. In the center of both countries are tall mountains. The difference is that Slovakia has 5 neighbors and Taiwan is surrounded by sea. Readers have told me they plan to travel to Central Europe right after the pandemic is over.

Which book do you consider your biggest success?

I value all the books I translated equally. Med z ľadových kvetov (Frost-flowers Honey) was the most challenging to translate. There are ten chapters in the book and each begins with a poem. However, I was so fascinated by the book that I finished the translation over Easter.

The book Dievčatko z veže (Ajka from the Tower) came out right after Christmas. I had baked honey biscuits and we handed them out at the book launch. The author Jana Bodnárová recorded a short video. Taiwanese readers were enchanted by her. The book Ema a ružová veľryba (Ema and the Pink Whale) was also a huge success. Nie je opica ako opica (No Two Monkeys Are the Same) and Med z ľadových kvetov (Frost-flower Honey) both came out in the same publishing house and hundreds of readers as well as renowned Taiwanese children’s book authors attended their respective launches.

In Taiwan, approximately 37 thousand books are published annually and out of that number about 4 thousand are aimed at children. Will the Slovak titles not get lost among such volume of children’s books?

As you said, the market welcomes thousands of new books each year. Every book faces the risk of getting lost in the sea of other books. I do believe, however, that good books have a long life.

After the initial phase, Taiwanese publishers are now completely open to publishing Slovak books. They told me they would like to publish more books by these female authors. For example SCCA has bought the license for the first two Mimi a Líza (Mimi and Liza) books. Slovak books were lucky to land in high-quality publishing houses in Taiwan. Some of them have branches in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore as well as in mainland China, thanks to which these books traveled to other regions. They also have partnerships with a number of state schools where Slovak books are being promoted.

What are your plans for the future? Are you working on any new translations?

I am always translating on the side of my regular job. Right now I am finishing up the second Mimi a Líza (Mimi and Liza) book. I have also finished the text for a picture book about a Slovak market place. A Slovak illustrator should provide the illustrations. I read a lot of children’s books, some of which I would like to recommend to Slovak publishers. I wish that Slovak children could read more beautiful books from Taiwan.

Have you ever thought about translating a Slovak work of prose and bringing it to Taiwan?

There are great sinologists in Slovakia. I don’t yet have the ambition to translate prose. I have a couple of authors I like and I firmly believe their books would be successful in Taiwan. The quality of the translation is key. I once read Milan Rúfus’ poems in Chinese but I had difficulty understanding the translation. Translation is an art form; the translator shares a soul with the author. If a translator doesn’t have special feelings for a book, they shouldn’t translate it because they will damage it.


Taiwan has 23 million inhabitants.
Approximately 37 thousand book titles are published annually.
In 2019, 3.887 children’s books have been published here. 
At the present there are 34.725 publishing houses active in Taiwan.  


Slovak children’s books translated into Chinese

1. Hana Gebauerová: Medvedica Ingrid / Ingrid the Bear (Rainbow Family Life Education Association, Taipei, 2019)
2. Jana Bodnárová: Dievčatko z veže / Ajka from the Tower (Youth Cultural Enterprise, Taipei, 2019) 
3. Peter Karpinský: O dvanástich mesiačikoch / About the Twelve Months (Vista Publishing, Taipei, 2020)
4. Mária Lazarová: Ema a ružová velryba / Ema and the Pink Whale (Children´s Publications, Taipei, 2020)
5. Lucia Kršková: Nie je opica ako opica / No Two Monkeys Are the Same (Hsiao Lu Publishing, Taipei, 2020)
6. Peter Karpinský: Med z ladovych kvetov / Frost-flowers Honey (Hsiao Lu Publishing, Taipei, 2020)
7. Katarína Moláková, Katarína Kerekešová, Alexandra Salmela: Mimi a Líza / Mimi & Liza (SACCA Publishing, Taipei, 2020)
8. Katarína Moláková, Katarína Kerekešová, Alexandra Salmela: Mimi a Líza 2 / Mimi & Liza 2 (SACCA Publishing, Taipei, scheduled to be published in 2021)

Taiwanese books translated into Slovak
1. Cchingyan LIU: Babička Joyce / Granny Joice (LÚČ, 2020)
2. Su-Chen Fang: Ambulancia hračiek sa otvára / The Opening of the Toy Clinic (Perfekt, 2020)
3. Julia Liu: Jazda do školy na Brontosaurovi / Riding a Brontosaurus to School (Perfekt, 2020)
4. Che Chang Lin: Magická metla na prenájom / Magic Broom for Rent (Perfekt, 2020) 
5. Ander Yeh: Ja a môj bicykel / Me and My Bike (DAXE, 2020)
6. Mei-Shi Hsiao: Kto dostane prvú cenu / Who Will Win First Prize (DAXE, 2020)
7. Yungyen Tsui: Babičkin les a Monika / Grandma’s Forest and Monika (Q111, 2020

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