Abstract Instruments


Chapter 28 “Musical Instruments” is a short End of the World chapter. Boku and the Librarian meet the Caretaker of the Power Station, a quiet young man with a collection of instruments he enjoys looking at. Boku peruses the instruments, tries out an accordion, and then receives it as a gift before leaving.

Just some minor cuts in this translation. Birnbaum avoids translating 煮込み as soup. He also eliminates a chess board as one of the Caretaker’s collection of beautiful objects.

The most interesting cut/revision is Birnbaum’s decision to abstract all the instruments rather than give their names. Here is Murakami’s description of the Caretaker’s room and my translation:


All sorts of musical instruments line the wall of the bedroom. They are all old enough to be considered antiques, and the majority are string instruments. There are things like a mandolin, a guitar, a cello, and a small harp. The strings are rusted, broken, or nonexistent. I’m unlikely to find replacements in the Town.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts the sentence with the names and the final sentence:

Arranged along the wall are various musical instruments. All are old. Most of them are string instruments, the strings hopelessly rusted, broken or missing. (293)

This happens elsewhere as well. バスーンに似た形の大型の管楽器 (a large wind instrument resembling a bassoon) becomes “a large tubular instrument, one obviously meant to be blown from the end.” ヴァイオリン (violin) becomes “…a wooden instrument. It is hollow and sandglass-shaped…” And last but not least 手風琴 (てふうきん, accordion) becomes “a box hinged with leather folds.”

This effectively extends Boku’s experience of living in the town to a greater degree than Murakami achieves in the original. Very nicely executed. Birnbaum buys into Murakami’s concept…and I’m tempted to say he translates like a fanboy would write fan fiction (and, oh yes, I’ve considered writing End of the World fan fiction). It’s a very nice touch to this chapter, one that increases the disconnection with a strange world that should be more familiar than it is.

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