Mysteries of Translation

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Gabriel wins Prize for Japanese Translation
  October 16, 2001


April was a good month for University of Arizona Professor of Japanese and translator Philip Gabriel. Three books he translated were published in the United States, and Columbia University's Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture awarded him its 2001 prize for the best translation of modern Japanese literature published in English.



The Keene Center's Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Award honors his translation of Life in the Cul-de-Sac (Gunsei) by Senji Kuroi, published by Stone Bridge Press. The two other April publications were his translations of Haruki Murakami’s work of nonfiction, Underground (co-translated with Alfred Birnbaum, Vintage International) and Murakami’s novel Sputnik Sweetheart (Alfred A. Knopf Publishers). The translation award will be presented at a ceremony at Columbia University in the spring of 2002.


Gabriel is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies where he teaches Japanese Literature.

Life in the Cul-de-Sac is considered Kuroi's masterpiece, and won the coveted Tanizaki Prize for Literature in 1984. Kuroi had never been translated into English before. The book's publisher, Stone Bridge Press of Berkeley, California, specializes in books about Japan and Japanese culture.



Gabriel's work as a translator is also valued in Japan. The Association for 100 Japanese Books, which promotes the publication of translations of modern Japanese classics, partially underwrote the publication of his translation of Life in the Cul-de-Sac, and will be sending Gabriel Feathers and Wings, one of Kuroi's latest novels, to read for possible future translation. When news of the Keene translation award appeared in the Tokyo Shimbun, one of Japan's leading newspapers, on May 1, Mr. Kuroi immediately contacted Gabriel by email to express his happiness at the news.


"The good thing about translating living authors is that you can communicate with them, ask them questions," says Gabriel. "Mr. Kuroi was very helpful in responding to my questions and concerns. One question we worked on together involved characters’ names. Two characters' names that were very different in Japanese writing were spelled similarly in English. To avoid confusion, I suggested we change the name of one of them in the English version, and Kuroi gave his assent.”

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