Tag: Haruki Murakami

Murakami on translating Fitzgerald into Japanese

Thursday, 30 August, 2018

A Columbia University Press book titled In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means, which was published in 2013, contains an essay by the great Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In it, he discusses the challenges that faced him when translating The Great Gatsby into Japanese. Snippet:

“When someone asks, ‘Which three books have meant the most to you?’ I can answer without having to think: The Great Gatsby, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. All three have been indispensable to me (both as a reader and as a writer); yet if I were forced to select only one, I would unhesitatingly choose Gatsby. Had it not been for Fitzgerald’s novel, I would not be writing the kind of literature I am today (indeed, it is possible that I would not be writing at all, although that is neither here nor there).

Gatsby Japanese translation Whatever the case, you can sense the level of my infatuation with The Great Gatsby. It taught me so much and encouraged me so greatly in my own life. Though slender in size for a full-length work, it served as a standard and a fixed point, an axis around which I was able to organize the many coordinates that make up the world of the novel. I read Gatsby over and over, poking into every nook and cranny, until I had virtually memorized entire sections.

Remarks such as these are bound to perplex more than a few readers. ‘Look, Murakami,’ they’ll say, ‘I read the novel, and I don’t get it. Just why do you think it’s so great?’ My first impulse is to challenge them right back. ‘Hey, if The Great Gatsby isn’t great,’ I am tempted to say, inching closer, ‘then what the heck is?’ Yet at the same time I am not without sympathy for their point of view. Gatsby is such a finely wrought novel — its scenes so fully realized, its evocations of sentiment so delicate, its language so layered — that, in the end, one has to study it line by line in English to appreciate its true value. Fitzgerald was a master stylist, and when he wrote Gatsby at the age of twenty-eight he was at the absolute peak of his craft. Unavoidably, Japanese translations have stumbled over some of the fine points of his novel, while others have been entirely omitted. As they say, a delicate wine doesn’t travel well. Try as one may, it will lose at least a portion of its aroma, mellowness, and texture en route.

Gatsby Japanese translation The only answer, I guess, is to read a work such as Gatsby in the original; yet that is more easily said than done. The beauty of Fitzgerald’s fluent, elastic prose lies in his ability to alter tone, pattern, and rhythm to create infinitesimal shifts in atmosphere. To be perfectly honest, a work that achieves this stylistic level is too difficult for a person with limited English to comprehend — only a truly advanced reader is able to see what he is really up to.

This is why, if I may be allowed to exaggerate in a somewhat high-handed manner, it is my impression that Japanese readers have never truly appreciated The Great Gatsby. At the very least, judging from the overall reaction of those I have exchanged views with (most of whom are, at least to some extent, professionally connected to the literary world), I can only be pessimistic about Gatsby’s reception in Japan. And standing behind this pessimism is the imposing barrier of the translation process itself.

I cannot be so presumptuous as to claim that my translation of Gatsby clears that barrier entirely. No one is more aware than I am of what a heavy undertaking it is to translate Gatsby, so I am not being falsely modest when I concede that my effort, too, is bound to have some faults. Whoever looks hard enough, I fear, can probably locate any number of places where I have failed. Yet is there a way of transferring a work of such beauty and completeness in English into another language without the occasional failure?

Until Gatsby, I had always tried to keep the fact that I was a writer far from my mind when translating: I wanted to make myself invisible, like a black-garbed puppet handler on the Bunraku stage. What mattered, I believed, was fidelity to the original. Gatsby in Japanese True, my being a writer had to be involved to a certain degree, since it formed part of the context I brought to the work, but that was something that arose naturally, without any conscious intent on my part. Gatsby, however, was a different story. From the outset, I set my sights on putting my novel-writing experience to as good a use as possible. This did not mean that I translated loosely or substituted my own phrases for those of the original. Rather, it meant that, at strategic moments, I brought my imaginative powers as a novelist into play. One by one, I dug up the slippery parts of Fitzgerald’s novel, those scattered places that had proved elusive, and asked myself, If I were the author, how would I have written this?

Painstakingly, I examined Gatsby‘s solid trunk and branches and dissected its beautiful leaves. When necessary, however, I stepped back to take a broader view, forsaking a word-by-word approach. Had I gone about translating Gatsby any other way, I wouldn’t have been able to convey the power of Fitzgerald’s prose.”

Tomorrow, here, the enduring mystery of Gatsby. But before that, a big, big thank you to @Eimi1003, who provided the cover images of the Japanese translation of the novel.


The wrath of Brian

Saturday, 21 October, 2017 0 Comments

“Storm Brian, a rapidly deepening depression in the mid-Atlantic, is expected to fill as it tracks over parts of Ireland late Friday night and early on Saturday.” — Met Éireann

Brian

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


Javier Marías for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Thursday, 5 October, 2017 0 Comments

“He’ll be a minister in Spain some day, or, at the very least, ambassador to Washington, he’s exactly the kind of pretentious fool with just a thin veneer of cordiality that the Right produces by the dozen and which the Left reproduces and imitates whenever they’re in power, as if they were the victims of some form of contagion.” — Javier Marías, Tu Rostro Mañana: 1 Fiebre Y Lanza

They’re awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature today up in Scandinavia. The betting is that it’ll go to a writer, but that’s not a sure thing anymore. “For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan. Very few saw that coming.

Today, we’ll see a return to the norm, such as it is in the world of letters. Haruki Murakami? Margaret Atwood? Ngugi wa Thiong’o? Amos Oz? Worthy candidates all, but our money is on Javier Marías, the Spanish novelist, short story writer and translator. He’s a superb writer and because the Spanish establishment could do with some good news at the moment, the Nobel committee might be inclined to lend a hand.


In Memory Of My Mother: Second anniversary

Wednesday, 6 September, 2017 1 Comment

Haruki Murakami once said: “No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories.” And as we wrote on this day two years ago: Our loss is enormous. Our hearts are broken. Our sorrow is great. Our hope is that our mother, Catherine O’Donnell-Fitzgerald (29 July 1928 – 6 September 2015), will smile up at us and down on us — eternally — because we will forever be in her debt.

In Memory Of My Mother

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday —
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle — ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life —
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh

Mammy


Ko Un can win

Wednesday, 12 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Samsung catastrophe has made this a very bad week so far for Seoul, but the Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded tomorrow and, according to Ladbrokes, Ko Un has a 14/1 chance of winning it. The South Korean poet was born on 1 August 1933 and among his works are haiku-like reflections with epigrammatic juxtapositions:

Some say they can recall a thousand years
Some say they have already visited the next thousand years
On a windy day
I am waiting for a bus

Other works, however, are longer. Much longer. There’s his seven-volume epic of the Korean independence movement under Japanese rule, Paektu Mountain, and this is topped by the monumental 30-volume Ten Thousand Lives, which was written during the years 1983–2010 to fulfil a vow Ko Un made during his imprisonment, when he expected to be executed following the coup d’état led by Chun Doo-hwan. If he lived, he swore that every person he had ever met would be remembered with a poem. Ko Un would be a deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Japan’s running writer, Haruki Murakami, is our bet at 5/1.


Paula Radcliffe: “The ability to run is a gift”

Saturday, 10 September, 2016 0 Comments

“The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always.” So writes Haruki Murakami in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Clouds of all different sizes and big sky are constant presences in Run by the filmmaker Jack Weatherley. His subject is Paula Radcliffe, the English long-distance runner and holder of the women’s world record in the marathon with her time of 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds, which she set in the Chicago Marathon on 13 October 2002.

After competing in the London Marathon last year, Paula Radcliffe announced that she had decided to end her long-distance running career. But she keeps on running.


Running man

Saturday, 20 August, 2016 0 Comments

Rio today: The men’s 1,500 metres Olympics final. It’s one of the classics of the track and field repertory and the greats over this distance include Hicham El Guerrouj, Bernard Lagat, Silas Kiplagat, Fermín Cacho, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram.

“At any rate, that’s how I started running. Thirty three — that’s how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.” — Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Running man shoes


The tempest

Sunday, 29 April, 2012

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami.

The Tempest