Translators

Birnbaum

Rubin

Mysteries of Translation

An Email roundtable
Philip Gabriel decoration microphone decoration microphone
decoration microphone
Translating Murakami: Email Roundtable
Date December 18, 2000 - January 18, 2001  
Media randomhouse.com  
Link http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i05/05b00701.htm
     
   

This is Philip Gabriel. I'm an associate professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I've done my academic work on postwar literature, particularly that of the writer Toshio Shimao, about whom I wrote a book entitled Mad Wives and Island Dreams: Toshio Shimao and the Margins of Japanese Literature.
 
 
I've also co-edited an anthology of writings on contemporary Japanese literature entitled Oe and Beyond. As far as translation is concerned, I've done one novel by Masahiko Shimada, one by Senji Kuroi (forthcoming), two by Haruki Murakami(plus half of his non-fiction work UNDERGROUND), and four short stories by Murakami--counting just the ones that have been published. Right now I'm submitting another Murakami short story for possible publication, and am working on a translation of Kenzaburo Oe's latest novel. [My whereabouts this week--I'll be here in Tucson, but will be leaving for Japan on Dec. 27

I first learned about Murakami's fiction in 1986, as I prepared to go back to graduate school. I was living in Nagasaki and was actively involved in a translation study group made up mostly of Japanese literature professors (of both English and Japanese literature.) Just before I left to return to the U.S., one of the professors and I went to a book store together. I'd asked him to recommend four or five writers he thought worth studying. This proved to be a memorable day for me, since three of the four he recommended were writers I ended up either studying or translating: Shimao, Kuroi, and Murakami. I read all of Murakami's short stories (they were in two collections) as soon as I could, and was really bowled over by them. I loved his light touch, his humor, his often quirky take on life, as well as the touch of nostalgia for the past that often appeared in these early works. In graduate school (at Cornell) I wrote a paper on one of these stories, and translated it as an appendix. I'd done some translation before, and enjoyed the challenge, and went on to translate three or four more of Murakami's stories for my own enjoyment. The editor of ZYZZYVA, a literary journal published in Berkeley, California, somehow heard I'd done some of Murakami's stories, and asked me to submit one. This was "Kangaroo Communique," which was published in the fall 1988 issue, making it, I believe, the first Murakami story published in the U.S.-- Murakami's agent in Tokyo was contacted at this time, and all the translations I had done eventually found their way into her hands, and into the author's.
 
 
I loved his light touch, his humor, his often quirky take on life, as well as the touch of nostalgia for the past that often appeared in these early works. In graduate school (at Cornell) I wrote a paper on one of these stories, and translated it as an appendix. I'd done some translation before, and enjoyed the challenge, and went on to translate three or four more of Murakami's stories for my own enjoyment. The editor of ZYZZYVA, a literary journal published in Berkeley, California, somehow heard I'd done some of Murakami's stories, and asked me to submit one. This was "Kangaroo Communique," which was published in the fall 1988 issue, making it, I believe, the first Murakami story published in the U.S.-- Murakami's agent in Tokyo was contacted at this time, and all the translations I had done eventually found their way into her hands, and into the author's.

TIn 1989 I went to Tokyo on a Fulbright to work on my dissertation. There I was able to meet Murakami; I had hoped to do a collection of his short stories, but he told me this was already in the works by someone else. I got involved in translating a novel by Masahiko Shimada, and in trying to find a permanent teaching position back in the U.S., and did not do much more in the way of translating Murakami until The New Yorker contacted me in 1992 asking to include my translation of "Barn Burning." After that two more of my translations appeared in The New Yorker (the latest one the Dec. 4, 2000 issue), and I was fortunate enough to be allowed to translate the novels SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN and SPUTNIK SWEETHEART as well as the non-fiction work "The Place that was Promised," which became Part Two of the English book UNDERGROUND.



This is the first part of an email sent from Philip Gabriel to Gary Fisketjon and Jay Rubin. Mails went back and forth for some time. They give an indepth look 'behind the scene' of translating Murakami.
 
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  http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i05/05b00701.htm