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TRANSLATING MURAKAMI: an email roundtable

From: Philip Gabriel
Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 12:17 PM
To: Jay Rubin; Gary Fisketjon
Subject: Re: An email roundtable: Translating Murakami

Phil here. Some questions for Jay: One of my graduate students wrote a thesis on WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, and though I don't recall the specifics, I believe she mentioned some Japanese chapters that, in the translation, were either substantially altered or not translated at all. Does she have this right, and if so, what were the decisions behind this? Also, I remember reading somewhere that when Alfred did his translation of HARDBOILED WONDERLAND, Murakami approached him with some revisions/additions he wanted incorporated into the English version; I wondered whether similar things happened with WIND-UP BIRD.

This last point may be related to one of the problems I've encountered translating modern Japanese literature: a different notion of editing in Japan. What I mean is, at times I notice inconsistencies, repetitions, and illogical parts in original Japanese texts that I am pretty sure an American editor would have weeded out. When I translated an early novel (not by Murakami)I felt at times that I was both translating AND editing. (They wouldn't let me get paid for both, unfortunately.) My editor said something that had stayed with me, namely that works by popular Japanese writers are rushed into print with minimum editing (by our standards) and that editors in Japan play a less active role in suggesting changes to texts. Thus when it comes time for people like us to translate them, we--and our editors--have to massage the original to make it fit OUR notions of a tight, logical text. (And possibly writers such as Murakami realize this and have second thoughts about certain sections of their books once they are going to be translated?) I haven't felt this was a problem too much with Murakami's works, except for some occasional repetitious sentences--the same idea rephrased in two contiguous sentences; I found this to be the case in SOUTH OF THE BORDER, for instance, where I tightened up the text slightly by omitting a few sentences I felt needlessly repeated ideas.

This raises, of course, the whole idea of "naturalizing" foreign texts--neutralizing differences, etc. How far should we go in eliminating or toning down differences in order to make a book palatable to a western audience? Maybe this doesn't really apply much to the two breakthrough writers of the 90s--Murakami and Yoshimoto--and maybe this is part of the reason for their appeal. In other words, are these two writers are somehow less distinctively "Japanese" than other writers and thus more easily digested abroad? I remember the editor at The New Yorker for my first story for them, "Barn Burning," adding a phrase "here in Tokyo" to one of the first sentences of the story (which reads, with the addition, as I recall, "I met her at a party here in Tokyo.") The logic behind this addition was, according to the editor, the fact that readers of Murakami's seemed to not realize the stories were Japanese, and we should give them a clue up front.

Another question to Jay: What did you think of SPUTNIK SWEETHEART as a novel?

For Gary: My students who are into Murakami ask me often about why the publication of NORWEIGIAN WOOD was delayed for so many years, and I have no idea how to respond. What accounted for the unusual timing of the American edition? Another question: how do you decide on the covers for the American editions of Murakami's work? The cover of SPUTNIK for instance--is the mirror imaging supposed to depict the "split" nature of Miu and/or Sumire? As the translator, I know people will ask me what it "means"...




From: Philip Gabriel Sent: Monday, December 18, 2000 5:28 PM
From: Jay Rubin Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 5:23 AM  
From: Philip Gabriel Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 12:17 PM  
From: Jay Rubin Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 8:43 PM  
From: Jay Rubin Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 10:21 PM  
From: Jay Rubin Sent: Tuesday, January 9, 2001 8:22 PM  
From: Philip Gabriel Sent: Tuesday, January 9, 2001 8:22 PM  
From: Fisketjon, Gary Sent: Tuesday, January 16, 2001 2:14 PM  
From: Philip Gabriel Sent: Jan. 18, 2001 
From: Gary Fisketjon Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 5:50 PM