GTE Localize

GTE Localize’s Success Story – Memoir Book Translation for John Doan

Posted by Ariel D. on April 08, 2022.

John Doan is a Vietnamese American NASA Scientist. He wrote his memorial book “Stranger on the Water” in English and wanted to share his life story with his relatives in Vietnam. Realizing his personal enthusiasm, the GTE Localize team has taken the role to help him start the book translation. About 79,000 English words have been translated, edited, also proofread within 14 months, and we would like to share this rewarding transcreation journey in this article.


Here are some keynotes of this book translation project:

  • Language pairs: English to Vietnamese
  • Content types: Memoir Book
  • Services: Transcreation
  • Volume: ~79,000 words
  • Duration: Nov 2019 – March 2021
  • Industries: Book, Personal Project



When John Doan contacted GTE Localize, he was looking for Vietnamese linguist experts who could help him transcreate the memoir in a way that his family and relatives in Vietnam could read and feel the memoir in Vietnamese like the way he would feel it from reading the English version.

Memoir book translation



While working on the book translation of “Stranger on the Water”, our team encountered four main challenges.

#1. Historical Events and Political Views

As the memoir mentions the author and his parents’ memories when living in Vietnam before and during the Vietnam war, some historical events were brought up from their personal points of view. To avoid inaccuracy when translating the book for Vietnamese audiences, all historical events needed to be verified.

In addition, the author’s political views are embedded in the memoir. There might be differences in the political views of the author and the readers, making some parts of the content controversial. The challenge posed here was how to respectively convey the author’s political views without making political conflicts.


#2. Complex Philosophical Concepts

Throughout the book, the author included some abstract philosophical concepts, some of which were his personal thoughts, and they were difficult to understand at first. Thus, before the transcreating process started, carefully reading, and researching to fully get the concepts was a must.


#3. Mixed Languages and Dialects

The language used in the book is a mixture of the North and South dialects with the Vietnamese dialect of people living overseas, which makes the book translation more challenging.

  • The first one-third of the book is about the author’s parents’ youth in a Northern village in the early 20th century, so the communication and narrative voice were in a typical and old language.
  • The remaining is about the time they move to the South so the author’s internal family’s communication and narrative voice were still the Northern style but the communication with other people was in the Southern voice.

The challenge was to choose a suitable language that could not only be understood easily by the public but also felt familiar to the author.


#4. Several Quotes and Religious Concepts

The book contains many quotes and classic references that mainly are from the Bible. To transcreate these quotes, the linguist needed to do research for the official Vietnamese version from various sources (books, the Internet, friends, etc.) and understood the concepts of religions that the linguist does not follow.



#1. The Best Transcreator for a Book Translation

Normally, a project is assigned to a team of many translators and editors. However, this is a transcreation project that required a consistent writing style and a thorough understanding of context. Thus, GTE Localize assigned the project to a long-experienced linguist with more than 5 years of experience in transcreation. After the transcreator completed transcreating the book, she self-reviewed the book again to guarantee accuracy and smoothness.


#2. Constant Research

With some very complex linguistic elements such as mixed dialects, philosophical concepts, quotes, and historical events, our transcreator must conduct research constantly throughout the whole transcreating process. For example, to make sure the events included are historically correct, the transcreator had to re-read some historical books and stories on the Internet. For events and facts that the author could not recall correctly or only hear from others, the transcreator must discuss with the author on a regular basis to find solutions.


#3. Continuing Communication

As aforementioned, some abstract concepts were the author’s personal thoughts. The transcreator had to discuss back and forth with the author to capture his core messages, and then find the most suitable words to convey those ideas.

For some historic events and nouns calling subjects, roles or people, there are various words in Vietnamese with the same meaning but different nuances that, if not used properly, could result in negative feelings for readers. Based on the understanding of history, personal and work experience, and rich vocabulary, the transcreator consulted with the author about the word choice to reach the optimized book translation.



  • 79,000 words transcreated
  • 51 chapters completed
The first chapter of the book

   The first chapter of the book translation

Book translation

Translation of song lyrics

Book translation requires much more than an understanding of everyday usage and dialogue. The ability to convert native expressions and stories from one culture into another is viral and you can find it in GTE Localize. Get in touch with us if you want to run any book translation project!

book translation