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Translators in an author’s oeuvre

One thing I’ve noticed in recent months is an increased sensitivity to how different translators translate the same author. It isn’t clear if it’s simply a matter of time and reading more, or trickle-down effect from the things I’m learning and doing in the MA programme. Probably a combination of factors, as most things go. Of course, without being able to read the original, I can’t be sure about if these differences belong to the author, or the translator. Yet a kind of distinction, strangely recognisable, is emerging as I read and reread certain titles. I hesitate to tap on the words ‘style’ or ‘voice’ — both so loose and arbitrary in meaning they’re not quite useful here — and still I struggle find words to describe that something. That something, that seems to belong to the text the same way the sound of water trickling does to a running stream. That’s just the right proportion and balance, almost like serendipity, or like the sort of magical feeling one gets when sun pierces through a blanket of pregnant grey clouds at the exact moment you step out from an absolutely shitty day. Almost like that, but as a flowing and undulating sort of energy, taking the form of these translated English words on paper.

When that happens, I start to pay close attention to the language, sometimes even closer than the plot. I flip the pages to double-check  the particular translator. I wonder about the musicality of the language, and whose song is. (Perhaps a symphony?) Thus far, the only two translated authors I’ve read a good number of their titles to notice this ‘noticing’ is Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami. In the case of the latter, translation seems to play a more prominent role in his own process of writing and publishing:

This calls to mind the act of translation — shuttling from one world to another — which is in many ways the key to understanding Murakami’s work. He has consistently denied being influenced by Japanese writers; he even spoke, early in his career, about escaping “the curse of Japanese.” Instead, he formed his literary sensibilities as a teenager by obsessively reading Western novelists: the classic Europeans (Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Dickens) but especially a cluster of 20th-century Americans whom he has read over and over throughout his life — Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut. When Murakami sat down to write his first novel, he struggled until he came up with an unorthodox solution: he wrote the book’s opening in English, then translated it back into Japanese. This, he says, is how he found his voice. Murakami’s longstanding translator, Jay Rubin, told me that a distinctive feature of Murakami’s Japanese is that it often reads, in the original, as if it has been translated from English.

‘The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami’, The New York Times Magazine

The rest of the interview is as fascinating as insight into the author, who I look towards largely for his process and not just his work (my favourite book by him is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, probably his most autobiographical — at least an unveiled one). The same article has a quote that’s a brilliant peek:

“Concentration is one of the happiest things in my life,” he said. “If you cannot concentrate, you are not so happy. I’m not a fast thinker, but once I am interested in something, I am doing it for many years. I don’t get bored. I’m kind of a big kettle. It takes time to get boiled, but then I’m always hot.”

As someone who struggles to reconcile equally developed and contrasting selves coexisting in the same body, topped with a bright, freshly-pickled marcellino cherry of ADD, his discipline, steady focus, and clear dedication are constant reminders of the muscles I need to continue working on.

Strand of thought sparked by a current reread of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.



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