Embrace

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen

embrace

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” part three. Watashi and the Girl in Pink head into the hatch in the laboratory and continue on their way to the INKling sanctuary. Watashi thinks a bit more about feeling detached from his body in the darkness. Then, in the Birnbaum translation, we have this passage:

The path wormed left and right but kept going further and further down. There were no steep inclines, only a steady, even descent. Five minutes later, we came to a large chamber. We knew this from the change in the air and the sound of our footsteps. (212)

There’s nothing in particular about the passage that stands out as strange on its own (other than the further-farther mistake?), but there is a massive cut hidden between the second and third sentences. As we’ve seen in the past few posts, Birnbaum made cuts that eliminated some of the more overtly sexual banter between the two and also Watashi’s warm reaction to a peck on the cheek. The reason for those cuts ultimately might have been because he chose to cut this scene here. The Complete Works edition followed by my translation:

道は左右に蛇のように曲がりくねり、いくつもの枝道にわかれながら、下方へ下方へと向っていた。急な坂こそないが、道は一貫して下りだった。まるで一歩一歩地表の明るい世界が私の背中からはぎとられていくような思いだった。

途中で一度だけ我々は抱きあった。彼女は突然立ちどまり、うしろを振り向き、ライトを消して私の体に両腕をまわした。そして私の唇を指先でさがし求め、そこに唇をかさねた。私も彼女の体に腕をまわし、そっと抱き寄せた。真っ暗闇の中で抱きあうというのは奇妙なものだった。たしかスタンダールが暗闇のなかで抱きあうことについて何かを書いていたはずだ、と私は思った。本のタイトルは忘れてしまった。私はそれを思いだそうとしたが、どうしても思いだせなかった。スタンダールは暗闇の中で女を抱きしめたことがあるのだろうか?もし生きてここを出ることができたなら、そしてまだ世界が終わっていなかったとしたら、そのスタンダールの本を探してみようと私は思った。

彼女の首筋からはメロンのオーデコロンの匂いはもう消えていた。そのかわりに十七歳の女の子の首筋の匂いがした。首筋の下からは私自身の匂いがした。米軍ジャケットにしみついた私の生活の臭いだ。私の作った料理や私のこぼしたコーヒーや私のかいた汗の臭いだ。そういうものがそこにしみついたまま定着してしまったのだ。地底の暗闇の中で十七歳の少女と抱きあっていると、そんな生活はもう二度と戻ることのない幻のように感じられた。それがかつて存在したことを思いだすことはできる。しかし私がそこに帰りつく情景を頭に思い浮かべることができないのだ。

私たちは長い時間じっと抱きあっていた。時間はどんどん過ぎ去っていったが、そんなことはたいした問題ではないように私には感じられた。我々は抱きあうことによって互いの恐怖をわかちあっているのだ。そして今はそれがいちばん重要なことなのだ。

やがて彼女の乳房が私の胸にしっかりと押しつけられて、彼女の唇が開き、やわらかな舌があたたかい息とともに私の口の中にもぐりこんできた。彼女の舌先が私の舌のまわりを舐め、指先が私の髪の中を探った。しかし十秒かそこらでそれは終わり、彼女は突然私の体を離れた。私はまるで一人宇宙空間にとり残された宇宙飛行士のように、底のない絶望感に襲われた。

私がライトをつけると、彼女はそこに立っていた。彼女も自分のライトをつけた。

「行きましょう」と彼女は言った。そしてくるりとうしろを向いて、前と同じ調子で歩きはじめた。私の唇にはまだ彼女の唇の感覚が残っていた。私の胸はまだ彼女の心臓の鼓動を感じることができた。

「私の、なかなかよかったでしょ?」と娘はふりかえらずに言った。

「なかなかね」と私は言った。

「でも何かが足りないのね?」

「そうだね」と私は言った。「何かが足りない」

「何が足りないのかしら?」

「わからない」と私は言った。

*

それから五分ばかり平坦な道を下ったところで、我々は広いがらんとした場所に出た。
(294-295)

The path snaked left and right, branched off on numerous occasions, and continued down, down into the ground. The grade wasn’t all that steep, but the path descended incessantly. It felt as though the bright surface world was being torn from my back step by step as we went.

Along the way we hugged just once. She stopped suddenly, turned around, turned off her light, and put her arms around me. Then she searched for my lips with her fingers and pressed her lips against them. I put my arms around her as well and gently pulled her closer. It was strange to hug her in the pitch dark. Stendhal wrote something about hugging in the dark, I thought to myself. I’d forgotten the title of the book. I tried to remember it but could not. I wonder if Stendhal ever hugged a woman in the dark. If I managed to get out of here alive, and if the world hadn’t already ended, I resolved to find the title of that Stendhal book.

The melon scent of her eau de cologne had already disappeared from the nape of her neck. In its place was the smell of a seventeen-year-old girl. And beneath her smell was my own smell. The smell of my life was ingrained in my Army surplus jacket. The food I’d made, coffee I’d spilled, and sweat I’d sweated. All of it had just fixed itself there and was ingrained. As I stood there in the darkness underground in an embrace with a seventeen-year-old girl, that life felt like an illusion I’d never return to. I could remember that it had existed once upon a time, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever returning to those circumstances.

For a long time we just stood there hugging. Time ticked away, but it didn’t feel like a serious problem to me. By embracing we were able to share how scared we were with each other, and that was most important right now.

Finally she pressed her breasts firmly against my chest, opened her lips, and slipped her soft tongue and warm breath into my mouth. The tip of her tongue flicked against my tongue, and she ran her fingers through my hair. But after ten seconds or so, she stopped and suddenly separated herself. I was overcome with the bottomless despair of an astronaut abandoned in outer space.

When I turned on my light, she was standing there. She turned on her light.

“Let’s go,” she said. She did an about face and began walking at the same pace as before. The sensation of her lips remained on my own. I could still feel her heartbeat on my chest.

“I was pretty good, wasn’t I?” she said without turning around.

“Not bad at all,” I said.

“But something was missing, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Something was missing.”

“I wonder what’s missing.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

*

After five minutes we had descended the slope and came to a large, empty room.

Makeout scene! I can’t believe this was hidden in the original version. It seems much more natural to leave the relationship completely unconsummated: It’s satisfyingly unsatisfying. Kind of tantalizing in a sexy way. It’s more satisfying to linger in the possibilities. She’s also half his age.

Not that the kiss is much of anything, and I do think it’s well written—probably better than some of Murakami’s more recent sexy writing, which has earned him the infamy of an award nomination.

This passage felt very typically Murakami. Experience and interiority overlap. Unlike the previous reaction to the peck on the cheek, Watashi is sent into his associations: by the darkness and embrace into Stendhal and by the smell into his everyday life. Then she leaves him floating in the darkness alone. The astronaut metaphor is nice.

Not much else to say about this one. Hugging and embracing both felt like pretty awkward renderings of 抱きあう, but I left it hugging for the most part.

This is probably the last official Murakami Fest post, but there will be two more posts about Chapter 21. That may seem like overkill, but there’s one more section that gets cut related to this post’s passage and another section that’s just kind of curious and has differences between the Complete Works and paperback versions.

That’s all for this year. Best of luck with the Nobel, Murakami!

Seventeen

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons

seventeen

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” continues. Watashi and the Girl in Pink make it through the waterfall and to the laboratory, but it’s been ransacked like everything else. Watashi is convinced that they took the old man as well until the girl goes into the closet to show him the secret exit. Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl went to the closet in the far room and threw the hangers onto the floor. As she rotated the clothes rod, there was the sound of gears turning, and a square panel in the lower right closet wall creaked open. In blew cold, moldy air.

“Your grandfather must be some kind of cabinet fetishist,” I remarked.

“No way,” she defended. “A fetishist’s someone who’s got a fixation on one thing only. Of course, Grandfather’s good at cabinetry. He’s good at everything. Genius doesn’t specialize; genius is reason in itself.”

“Forget genius. It doesn’t do much for innocent bystanders. Especially if everyone’s going to want a piece of the action. That’s why this whole mess happened in the first place. Genius or fool, you don’t live in the world alone. You can hide underground or you can build a wall around yourself, but somebody’s going to come along and screw up the works. Your grandfather is no exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and now the world’s going to end.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it’ll be all right,” she said, drawing near to plant a little peck by my ear. “You can’t go back now.”

The girl kept her eye on the INKlink-repel device while it recharged. (210)

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I was a little surprised at this point to see that she actually kisses him. I remember her being a horndog, but I didn’t remember any physicality. Here is the Complete Works version and my translation:

娘は奥の部屋に行ってクローゼットの中にかかっていたハンガーを床に放り出し、ハンガーをかけるステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんでくるくるとまわした。しばらくそれをまわしているうちに、歯車のかみあうかちんという音が聞こえた。それからもなお同じ方向にまわしつづけていると、クローゼットの壁の右下の部分が縦横七○センチほどの大きさにぽっかりと開いた。のぞきこんでみるとその穴の向うには手にすくいとれそうなほどの濃い暗闇がつづいているのが見える。冷ややかなかび臭い風が部屋の中に吹きこんでくるのが感じられた。

「なかなかうまく作ってあるでしょ」と娘がステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんだまま、私の方を向いて言った。

「たしかによくできてる」と私は言った。「こんなところに脱出口があるなんて普通の人間じゃ考えつかないものな」

彼女は私のそばに寄って背のびし、私の耳の下に小さくキスをした。彼女にキスされると私の体はいくらかあたたまり、傷の痛みもいくぶん引いたように感じられた。私の耳の下にはそういう特殊なポイントがあるのかもしれない。あるいはただ単に、十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのが久しぶりだったせかもしれない。この前十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのは十八年も前の話である。

娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に行った。充電が完了したのだ。(289-290)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here.”

She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my wound also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

Interesting. Birnbaum (or his editor) cut the interiority after the kiss. It’s just a peck and then she keeps talking. He thinks nothing of it.

As you can see, though, Murakami makes his own cuts in the Complete Works edition. When there’s smoke there’s fire, so I was super curious to check out the Japanese paperback original for “cabinet fetishist” and to see which parts both BOHE and Murakami cut. Here we go (my translation follows):

娘は奥の部屋に行ってクローゼットの中にかかっていたハンガーを床に放り出し、ハンガーをかけるステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんでくるくるとまわした。しばらくそれをまわしているうちに、歯車のかみあるかちんという音が聞こえた。それからもなお同じ方向にまわしつづけていると、クローゼットの壁の右下の部分が縦横七十センチほどの大きさにぽっかりと開いた。のぞきこんでみるとその穴の向うには手にすくいとれそうなほどの濃い暗闇がつづいているのが見える。冷ややかなかび臭い風が部屋の中に吹きこんでくるのが感じられた。

「なかなかうまく作ってあるでしょ」と娘がステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんだまま、私の方を向いて言った。

「たしかによくできてる」と私は言った。「こんなところに脱出口があるなんて普通の人間じゃ考えつかないのな。まさにマニアックだな」

「あら、マニアックなんかじゃないわよ。マニアックというのはひとつの方向なり傾向なりに固執する人のことでしょ?祖父はそうじゃなくて、あらゆる方面に人より優れているだけなのよ。天文学から遺伝子学からこの手の大工仕事までね」と彼女は言った。「祖父のような人は他にはいないわ。TVやら雑誌のグラビアやらに出ていろいろと吹聴する人はいっぱいいるけれど、そんなのはみんな偽物よ。本当の天才というのは自分の世界で充足するものなのよ」

「しかし本人が充足しても、まわりの人間はそうじゃない。まわりの人間はその充足の壁を破って、なんとかその才能を利用しようとするんだ。だから今回のようなアクシデントが起るんだ。どれだけの天才でもどれだけの馬鹿でも自分一人だけの純粋な世界なんて存在しえないんだ。どんなに地下深くに閉じこもろうが、どんなに高い壁をまわりにめぐらそうがね。いつか誰かがやってきて、それをほじくりかえす。君のおじいさんだってその例外じゃない。そのおかげで僕はナイフで腹を切られ、世界はあと三十五時間あまりで終わろうとしている」

「祖父がみつかればきっと何もかもうまく収まるわ」彼女は私のそばに寄って背のびし、私の耳の下に小さくキスをした。彼女にキスされると私の体はいくらかあたたまり、傷の痛みもいくぶん引いたように感じられた。私の耳の下にはそういう特殊なポイントがあるのかもしれない。あるいはただ単に、十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのが久しぶりだったせかもしれない。この前十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのは十八年も前の話である。

「みんなうまくいくって信じていれば、世の中に怖いものなんて何もないわよ」と彼女は言った。

「年をとると、信じることが少なくなってくるんだ」と私は言った。「歯が擦り減っていくのと同じだよ。べつにシニカルになるわけでもなく、懐疑的になるわけでもなく、ただ擦り減っていくんだ」

「怖い?」

「怖いね」と私は言った。それから身をかがめて穴の奥をもう一度覗き込んだ。「狭くて暗いのは昔から苦手なんだ」

「でももううしろには引き返せないわ。前に進むしかないんじゃないかしら?」

「理屈としてはね」と私は言った。私はだんだん自分の体が自分のものではなくなっていくような気分になりはじめていた。高校生の頃バスケット・ボールをやっていて、ときどきそういう気分になったことがあった。ボールの動きがあまりにも速すぎて、からだをそれに対応させようとすると、意識の方が追いついていけなくなってしまうわけだ。

娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に言った。充電が完了したのだ。 (361-363)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here. You’d have to be a total maniac.”

“Hey, he’s no maniac,” she said. “A maniac is someone who fixates on a certain thing or tendency, right? Grandfather isn’t like that; he’s superior on all different levels. From astronomy to genetics and even carpentry like this. There’s no one else like Grandfather. There are tons of people who appear on TV or in magazines to try and promote themselves, but they’re all a bunch of phonies. True geniuses are fulfilled by their own world.”

“But even if geniuses are fulfilled, the people around them aren’t. The people around them try to break down the walls of that fulfillment and use their genius for something. And that’s why accidents like this happen. You don’t exist in a world that’s purely your own no matter how smart or how stupid you are. No matter how deep underground you dig, no matter how high of a wall you try to surround yourself with, right? Eventually someone will come along and try to expose you. Your grandfather isn’t any exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and the world is going to end in just over 35 hours.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it will all work out.” She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my would also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

“If you just trust that everything will work out, there’s nothing in the world that can scare you,” she said.

“As you get older, you trust in fewer things,” I said. “It’s like the way your teeth wear down. You don’t get cynical or skeptical, just worn down.”

“Are you scared?”

“I am,” I said. I squatted down and looked in the hole again. “I can’t stand dark and cramped spaces.”

“But we can’t go back. We can’t only keep going, right?”

“In theory,” I said. I gradually started to get the feeling that my body was no longer my own. I occasionally had that sensation when I was playing basketball in high school. The ball moved too fast, and when I tried to make my body keep up, my consciousness got left behind.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

So “fetishist” is literally “maniac” in the Japanese. I think Birnbaum’s fetishist is a better translation. I left it as maniac to give non-Japanese readers a better sense of the passage. The only other possibility in English is “zealot,” perhaps.

As you can see, Murakami cuts the discussion of genius in its entirety for the Complete Works edition, and Birnbaum has adapted it somewhat liberally above in his version. It’s too bad that the line about trust gets cut: say what you will about Murakami as a writer, in his younger days he did write compellingly about what it feels like to get older.

And it’s nice to see his pet images the well and the wall in the original paperback version.

I wasn’t quite sure about the implications of 吹聴, but I took it to mean “experts” who are always making appearances on TV or in magazines, partly to share their knowledge but also to build their brand.

As mentioned last week, next week’s cut is a doozy. Can’t wait to take a closer look at it.

Hard-ons

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirth, Wasteland

hard-on

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” is a beast. It’s the final chapter of the first half of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and spans 38 pages in the Complete Works edition yet is only 17 pages in translation. There are more cuts in this chapter than anywhere else in the novel so far, and they are pretty interesting (I’m actually still coming across them—eight pages left to read). So I’ll tackle the chapter a cut at a time over the next few weeks.

In this part of the chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink head back to the laboratory under the waterfall to check on the old scientist.

In a way, this is the perfect Murakami chapter. Nothing happens. They mostly just walk. This gives them plenty of time to have conversations and for the narrator to sink into his thoughts. He actually does this immediately: He has no interest in going through any more of this ordeal, so he imagines himself with the girl wearing bracelets in the Nissan Skyline they saw in the previous chapter after getting hamburgers. (Bonus cut: In Chapter 19, page 188, Birnbaum translates the scene as “music” playing from the radio, but Murakami has them listening to Duran Duran – Hungry like the wolf!) He imagines the woman showering and having sex with only the bracelets on and, yare yare, he ends up with an erection. This is funny because he couldn’t get it up with the librarian earlier.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts liberally throughout, condensing the interiority and some of the dialogue. Then, as they hike, we come to this passage in the translation:

I was ready to turn back, but we forged on. She knew every step of the way and scampered ahead. When I trained my light on her from behind, her gold earrings flashed.

“Tell me, do you take off your earrings when you take a shower?” I spoke up.

“I leave them on,” she slowed down to answer. “Only my earrings. Sexy?”

“I guess.” Why did I have to go and bring up the subject?

“What else do you think is sexy? I’m not very experienced, as I said. Nobody teaches you these things.”

“Nobody will. It’s something you have to find out for yourself,” I said.

I made a conscious effort to sweep all images of sex from my head. (206)

It works well in translation, perhaps better than what Murakami initially wrote. Here is the Complete Works edition with my translation immediately following. To orient you, although the first line of the following passage is dialogue, Birnbaum rendered it above as narration:

「なにがどうなってもいいから、このまま帰りたくなったよ」

それでも我々は流れに沿って前進した。彼女が先に立ち、私があとにつづいた。私がライトを彼女の背中にあてると、切手くらいの大きさの金のイヤリングがきらきらと光った。

「そんな大きなイヤリングをいつもつけていて重くないのかい?」と私はうしろから声をかけてみた。

「慣れればね」と彼女は答えた。「ペニスと同じよ。ペニスを重いと感じたことある?」

「いや、べつに。そういうことはないな」

「それと同じよ」

我々はまたしばらく無言のうちに歩きつづけた。彼女は足場を知りつくしているらしく、ライトでまわりの風景を照らしながらすたすたと前に進んだ。私はいちいち足もとをたしかめながら、苦労してそのあとを追った。

「ねえ、君はシャワーとかお風呂に入るときにそのイヤリングをとるの?」と私は彼女においてきぼりにされないためにまた声をかけた。彼女はしゃべるときだけ歩くスピードを少し落とすのだ。

「つけたままよ」と彼女は答えた。「裸になってもイヤリングだけはつけてるの。そういうのってセクシーだと思わない?」

「そうだな」と私はあわてて言った。「そう言われれば、そうかもしれないな」

「セックスってあなたはいつも前からやるの?向いあったまま?」

「まあね。だいたいは」

「うしろからやるときもあるんでしょ?」

「うん。そうだね」

「それ以外にもいろいろと種類があるんでしょ?下になるのとか、座ってやるのとか、椅子を使うのとか……」

「いろんな人がいるし、いろんな場合があるからね」

「セックスのことって私よくわからないの」と彼女は言った。「見たこともないし、やったこともないし。そういうことって誰も教えてくれなかったの」

「そういうのは教わるもんじゃなくて、自分でみつけるものだんだよ」と私は言った。「君にも恋人ができて彼と寝るようになればいろいろと自然にわかるようになるさ」

「そういうのあまり好きじゃないのよ」と彼女は言った。「私はもっと……なんていうか、圧倒的なことが好きなの。圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの。いろいろととか自然にじゃなくてね」

「君は多分年上の人と一緒に長くいすぎたんだよ。天才的で圧倒的な資質を持った人とね。でも世の中って、そういう人ばかりじゃないんだ。みんな平凡な人で、暗闇のなかを手さぐりしながら生きているんだ。僕みたいにさ」

「あなたは違うわ。あなたならオーケーよ。それはこの前に会ったときにも言ったでしょう?

しかしとにかく、私は頭の中から性的なイメージを一掃しようと決心した。私の勃起はまだつづいていたが、こんな地底の真っ暗闇の中で勃起したところで意味はないし、だいいち歩きにくいのだ。 (282-283)

“I don’t care what happens, I just want to get home in one piece.”

But we continued forth along the river. She took the lead, and I followed. When I shined the light on her back, her stamp-sized earrings glittered in the darkness.

“Doesn’t wearing big earrings like that get heavy?” I tried to shout up ahead to her.

“You get used to it,” she answered. “Same as a penis. Does having a penis ever get heavy?”

“Not really. That doesn’t happen.”

“It’s just like that.”

We continued walking in silence for a while. She seemed sure of her footing and proceeding at a quick pace, shining her light all around as she went. I labored on after her, carefully checking each step as I went.

“Hey, do you take off your earrings when you get in the shower or the bath?” I shouted up to her again so she wouldn’t leave me behind. She only slowed down when she was talking.

“I keep them on,” she answered. “Even when I’m naked. Think that’s sexy?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, flummoxed. “Now that you mention it, maybe so.”

“Do you always have sex from the front? Facing each other?”

“I guess. Usually.”

“You must do it from behind sometimes?”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“And there are a bunch of other ways too, right? You can be underneath or you can do it sitting down or using a chair…”

“There are lots of people and probably just as many ways to have sex.”

“I don’t really understand sex,” she said. “I’ve never seen it done and never done it. Nobody will teach me anything about stuff like that.”

“You don’t learn that stuff, you find it out for yourself,” I said. “You’ll come to understand all sorts of stuff once you get a boyfriend and start sleeping with him.”

“I don’t like stuff like that,” she said. “I like more…more devastating things. I want to be taken by someone with devastating force, and I want to take it in with equally devastating force. Not just naturally.”

“I think you’ve been with people older than you for too long. Geniuses with devastating intellects. But the world isn’t just filled with that kind of people. It’s filled with ordinary people fumbling their way through the darkness, trying to live. People like me.”

“You’re different. You are gonna be fine. Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”

For the time being, I resolved to clear my mind of all sexual images. My hard-on continued, but it was meaningless down here in the pitch dark and mostly just made it difficult to walk.

That last line is fantastic, and it’s too bad that BOHE didn’t find a way to keep it. I guess some of the other stuff is a bit ancillary, especially since there were similar scenes the first time they met when the girl comes off as a total horndog. (Although I am currently unable to locate the piece of dialogue she refers to when she says “Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”)

I like my rendering of “You are gonna be fine” because SPOILER ALERT we know that the narrator will not in fact be fine, but あなたならオーケーよ is probably closer to “You’re OK…(even if everyone else isn’t).”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with 圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの. And maybe that’s the reason BOHE cut the passage. 犯す gets listed as “rape, deflower, taken” in various dictionaries, so it probably has a range of meanings, and I don’t think the girl is asking to be raped, but she seems to be asking for force. Deflower seemed too formal for her, although maybe she needs formal. Any thoughts?

For the most part, as I mentioned above, the cuts are effective. BOHE keeps the key takeaway of the scene—she brings up sex again—but cuts the unnecessary bits. The penis line is especially awkward.

The good news is that all these posts build up to another cool cut—at least this week and next week’s post do. A very interesting cut two weeks from now, but next week is good too. Join me then.

Wasteland

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: Warmth, Rebirth

limestone

Chapter 20 “The Death of the Beasts” is another short chapter. This is the section of the book where the pace really starts to pick up. Part of that is because there is a lot of action in the “Hard-boiled Wonderland” section of the novel, but the other reason is because the “End of the World” sections are shorter in comparison. Chapter 21, for example, is 38 pages in the Complete Works, and Chapter 19 was 18. Chapter 18 and 20, on the other hand, are only 5 and 6 pages respectively.

In 20, Boku gets up one morning to the Town covered in snow and decides to go for a walk. He comes upon the Gatekeeper who says he should watch from the Watchtower as he blows the horn. When he does, it becomes apparent to Boku that many of the beasts have died in their sleep. He runs back to his room, his eyes in pain from the morning light. There the Colonel takes care of him and talks with him about the beasts.

There is just one small cut by Birnbaum (or his editor) in translation. Boku asks the Colonel why the beasts don’t move away to somewhere where they would survive:

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know this.” (202)

This is an accurate translation, but it leaves a few of the finals sentences out, as BOHE is known to do. I’ve marked these in red and kept Birnbaum’s version for the first half:

「それは私にもわからん」と老人は言った。「しかし獣たちはここの街を離れることはできないんだ。彼らはこの街に付属し、捕われているんだ。ちょうど私や君と同じようにな。彼らはみんな彼らなりの本能によって、この街から脱け出すことがけいないということをちゃんと知っているんだ。あるいは彼らはこの街にはえている木や草しか食べられんのかもしれん。あるいは南に向かう途中に広がっている石灰岩の荒野を越えることができないのかもしれん。しかしいずれにせよ、獣たちはここを離れることはできないんだ」 (277)

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know that they cannot escape from the Town. Or perhaps it’s because they only eat the trees and grasses that grow in the Town. Or they cannot cross the limestone wasteland they would encounter to the south. Whichever the case, the beasts cannot leave.

BOHE has cut the unnecessary verbiage that attempts to grow the world beyond the Town and left the thought on the more ominous ending: They know this. This cut helps the dialogue flow more smoothly as well. Immediately after this, Boku asks “What happens to the bodies?” There’s no chance for him to get distracted about the limestone or the plants. His real concern is the beasts.

Although perhaps it does miss out on the idea that the Town is the safest option for the beasts, that while there are dangers within, outside is more desolate and dangerous.

No matter how you weigh it, this is a minor change. More dramatic changes are coming soon. Next week is the 38-page monstrosity that is Chapter 21, which I may have to divide across two (or three?) weeks because of the length and the number of cuts. See you then.

Rebirth

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: Warmth

mediterranean

In Chapter 19 “Hamburgers, Skyline, Deadline,” Watashi and the Girl in Pink have hamburgers, make it to the old man’s office building, and then prep for another spelunking adventure…after ominously discovering that there are 36 hours left until something bad happens.

A couple of interesting things of note in this chapter. There is one callback to the watermelon metaphor that gets cut by Murakami for the Complete Works version. After Watashi tells the Girl in Pink that he doesn’t think he has any special qualities, she insists that his “emotional shell” is what makes him special and gives him the ability to shuffle. It helped protect him from the procedure they performed on him. Here is the paperback version after that:

「ガードというのはつまりメロンの皮のようなものだね?」

「簡単に言えばそうね」

「それで」と私は言った。「その僕の抗体なり殻なりメロンなりというのは、先天的な資質なのかい?あるいは後天的なもの?」(330-331)

“So this guard is basically like the rind of a melon?”

“Put simply, yes.”

“So,” I said. “This antibody or shell or rind or whatever it is, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?”

I’ve borrowed some of Birnbaum’s language from his translation, which is very close to the Complete Works version:

私はそれについてしばらく考えてみた。「その僕の抗体なりガードなり殻なりは、先天的な資質なんだろうか?」(265)

Except Birnbaum keeps the “acquired line” in translation:

I thought this over. “This antibody factor or guard or whatever, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?” (194)

Not a massive change, but a missed callback to the melon stuff from earlier. Always interesting to see what Murakami is doing.

Birnbaum works some of his translation magic as always. When the pair get to the office, it’s been ransacked just as his apartment was, and all the girl’s clothes are strewn across the floor, which gives Birnbaum the chance to work with this line:

濃いピンクから淡いピンクまでの見事なグラデーションだった。(266)

An orchestration of pink in every gradation from light rose to deep fuchsia. (195)

And there is also a missed translation…because everyone is fallible. The device to repel the INKlinks (yamikuro) is still working, despite it having been knocked around:

“It’s all right, it works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. Lucky for us, because the mechanism’s so simple, one little whack could have broken it.” (195)

But the Japanese suggests that it could not have been broken so easily:

「大丈夫よ。ちゃんと動くわ。きっと意味のない機械だと思ったんでしょう。それにこの機械の原理はとても簡単だからちょっとぶっつけただけではなかなか壊れない」と彼女は言った。(267)

“It’s all right. It works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. And the mechanism’s so simple that a little bump on the head wouldn’t break it,” she said.

An alternate translation for that last line might be: “And the mechanism’s so simple that it would take more than a little bump to break it.”

But all these are just trivia, for the most part. The most interesting cut has to do again with the Girl in Pink, who becomes far more interesting this chapter. She’s always been overly cute and sensual and a bit frisky, but in this chapter she shows us exactly how smart and skillful she is. She’s learned just about everything from the old scientist: how to dodge taxes, trade stocks, run things for him. She’s completely financially independent. In what seems like a foreshadowing of Creta Kano’s invitation to Toru, she invites Watashi to run off to Europe. The Girl in Pink even suggests that once abroad he could be “reborn” as a “first-rate human being” (一流の人間). Watashi’s response from the Complete Works:

「ふうん」と私は言った。(263)

“Hmm,” I said.

Birnbaum’s translation leaves a vestigial tale of the original paperback text:

“Hmm.” Not a bad offer. (192)

In the original, the narrator deliberates a good bit longer and in doing so captures the mindset of many Murakami protagonists:

「ふうん」と私は言った。悪くない話だった。計算士としての私もこの事件のせいで微妙な局面にさしかかっているし、外国でのんびり暮すというのは魅力的だった。しかし自分が本当に一流の人間になれるという確信が私にはどうしても持てなかった。一流の人間というのは普通、自分は一流の人間になれるという強い確信のもとに一流になるものなのだ。自分はたぶん一流にはなれないだろうと思いながら事のなりゆきで一流になってしまった人間なんてそんなにはいない。(327)

“Hmm,” I said. Not a bad offer. This incident had put me in a tight spot as a Calcutec, so a leisurely life abroad did have its charms. However, I wasn’t confident I could ever become a first-rate human being. Usually first-rate human beings become first rate because they have strong conviction that they can become first rate. There aren’t many human beings who became first rate just caught up in the current of things, the whole time thinking they weren’t first rate.

Not exactly critical information, but kind of the arm-chair philosophy/wordplay that has generated fanboys and girls for Murakami. And endearing, for sure…at least to me. It builds up the narrator as more of an underdog.

This passage feels like Murakami digging into his subconscious. He basically jetted off to the Mediterranean shortly after publishing this book, and he worked on Norwegian Wood while he was there (1985-1987 or so). He had a decent readership by the time Hard-boiled Wonderland was published, but I bet he wondered what level of success he’d achieve. He published Norwegian Wood in 1987 while still living abroad, and when he came home, he was a celebrity. Quite a rebirth.

Warmth

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld Man, Watermelons

skull

From Bill Gracey‘s photostream.

Welcome back! As with last year, my laziness continues. I will pull the starter cord on the rusty (but trusty) lawnmower that is my close reading of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and read through a few more chapters to examine changes that Murakami made for the Complete Works edition and adjustments made by Birnbaum (or his editor) (BOHE) in translation.

Chapter 18 “Dreamreading” is an appropriately short chapter for me to get back in the swing of things. It’s only five pages in the “Complete Works” edition and just a bit longer in the paperback. No major changes between those additions, and BOHE didn’t make many either.

There are a few minor adjustments in translation of course, as there are with any translation, and many of these would vary with any translator. But they’re still fun to look at.

In this chapter, Boku describes his frustrations with the dreamreading process, reads a few dreams, and discusses his frustrations with the Librarian. Her job is to wipe down the unicorn skulls—the dreams—after he has brought them from the stacks and to serve him coffee when he’s finished. Birnbaum renders this in a wonderfully clean translation:

I select a skull from the long shelves and carry it to the table. She helps me, first, to wipe off the dust with a dampened cloth. With meticulous care, she then polishes it with a dry cloth until the skull becomes like sleet. (183)

Murakami’s Japanese, however, is a bit more decorated:

僕は見わたす限りの書架に並んだ古い夢のうちのひとつを手にとり、そっと抱えるようにしてテーブルに運んだ。それから彼女に手伝ってもらってほんの少し水で湿らせた布でほころと汚れを拭きとり、次に乾いた布で時間をかけてごしごしと磨いた。(249-250)

I take one of the old dreams lined up endlessly along the shelves and, cradling it gently, bring it to the table. Then she helps me to wipe off the dust and dirt with a slightly dampened cloth, and then to carefully polish it with a dry cloth.

BOHE simplifies “lined up endlessly along the shelves” to “from the long shelves.” “(just) slightly dampened cloth” becomes “dampened.” And the “cradling” gets cut completely. But he adds in the description of the skull like “sleet.” The result is much sparser, simplified translation. This results in other great passages such as the following:

At the end of each session, she serves coffee. Occasionally we share biscuits or fruitbread she bakes at home. We do not speak as we eat. (184)

That line hit me when I was reading the translation.

There is one very small cut later in the chapter that I think does more damage to one of Murakami’s main themes in this book (and in many others): warmth (ぬくもり).

When they finish in the Library, Boku and the Librarian walk through the Town again:

As always, we sit on the narrow steps that lead from the Old Bridge down to the sandbar. A pale silver moon trembles on the face of the water. A wooden boat lashed to a post modulates the sound of the current. Sitting with her, I feel her warm against my arm. (185)

Again, a great translation, and I think he ends it on a nice point that shows more than tells. Murakami goes on for a few more sentences:

我々はいつものように旧橋のまん中にある中洲に下りるための階段に腰を下ろして、川を眺めていた。冷えびえとした白い月が小さなかけらとなって川面で小刻みに揺れていた。誰かが中洲の杭につないだ細い木のボートが水音を微妙に変えていた。階段の狭いステップの上に並んで座っているせいで僕は肩口にずっと彼女の体のぬくもりを感じていた。不思議なものだ、と僕は思った。人々は心というものをぬくもりにたとえる。しかし心と体のぬくもりのあいだには何の関係もないのだ。(252)

As always, we sit on the steps that descend from the middle of the Old Bridge to the sandbar and watch the river. The frigid, white moon breaks into small pieces and flutters on the surface of the water. Someone has tied up a flimsy, wooden boat to a post on the sandbar, and it slightly alters the sound of the water. Perhaps because we are sitting next to each other on the narrow steps, I feel her warmth in my shoulder the whole time. It’s strange, I think. People always think of the mind as warmth. But warmth of the mind and warmth of the body are completely unrelated.

I’ve maintained Birnbaum’s translation of kokoro here with “mind,” but this is one spot in particular where “heart” might make more sense. Birnbaum has made other modifications to keep his same spartan translation style (for example, moving the “narrow” to the first sentence in the paragraph from the fourth), but he just cuts the final three sentences completely.

In an MFA workshop, those are the sentences someone would have marked as “Show don’t tell” or “Too on-the-nose,” I guess. (There have been a surprising number of references to MFA workshops in the reviews of Tsukuru Tazaki. Mostly in regards to stilted dialogue or strange wordings.)

I also have a feeling that Murakami will address this mind-body divide later in the book, so it might not be totally necessary to introduce it so explicitly right now.

In the end, I attribute this slight change to Birnbaum’s major decision to translate kokoro as mind rather than heart. I think it works perfectly in most of the rest of the novel, but here I think the line “People always think of the mind as warmth” in particular feels a little off. “People always think of the heart as warmth,” on the other hand, feels a little more natural.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Review Round-up

My review of Philip Gabriel’s translation of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is online over at the Japan Times: “Haruki Murakami’s new book peels back the layers of friendship.”

But others have written smarter things than I have. Notably, Patti Smith in the New York Times:

The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or flawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another. “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone,” Tsukuru comes to understand. “They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.” The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not “Blonde on Blonde,” it is “Blood on the Tracks.”

Her note about the dialogue is true, and that feels very strange since I’m finding the dialogue in “Yesterday” from the New Yorker pretty cleverly translated. (I’m still in the middle of that story and may write something about it soon.)

And I think she’s also right on about Murakami’s main message with the book, which is something I hit on last year in my review of the Japanese version at Neojaponisme: Are we only ever “talking on the phone”?

I think Sean O’Hagan at The Guardian sees Tsukuru Tazaki within Murakami’s overall oeuvre more clearly than Smith:

Essentially, Murakami writes two kinds of novels: the deftly delineated personal odyssey of self-discovery narrative – Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, West of the Sun (both 2000) – and the more ambitiously plotted, often supernaturally shaded, epic shaggy dog story – A Wild Sheep Chase (1989), Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997). The latter approach, which incorporates elements of magic realism, science fiction and Japanese mythology, reached an apogee of sorts with his most recent novel, the three-volume 1Q84, which by turns mesmerised and baffled with its bewildering and, in places, disturbing plot. It involved a female character who wandered off a freeway into a parallel universe and a darkly mystical cult led by a self-styled prophet who indulged in creepy sex with the young female assassin hired by a mysterious dowager to kill him.

Colorless Tsukuru, perhaps as a reaction to the excesses of IQ84, falls into the first category, its relatively straightforward narrative centring on an archetypal Murakami character: a lonely young Japanese man whose life has been dislocated by a traumatic event he cannot make sense of.

I agree that this book is a reaction to 1Q84. This is true not only in scope but in technique. Rather than boring the reader with endless repetition of activities (reading Proust, exercising, etc.), Murakami bores in Tsukuru Tazaki with narrative summary. I don’t think I noticed this so much when reading in Japanese, but it felt interesting and new for him at first in translation.

For example, between Chapter 9 and 10, when Tsukuru decides to go on his pilgrimage to meet his old friends, he is very decisive, which is not usual of Murakami protagonists. Throughout his past novels and as recently as Tengo in 1Q84, the characters drink and sink themselves into routine in order to escape pain and confusion, but Tsukuru needs only an hour watching trains to obtain a temporary sense of release and then he’s on to the next spot. Murakami needed thousands of pages to cover six months in 1Q84. In Tsukuru Tazaki he only needed a few hundred to cover sixteen years.

But Murakami gets so wrapped up in this technique that he forgets to include certain details, which he is forced to add in (again as narrative summary) later in the book. The two I’m thinking of in particular are Shiro’s piano lessons, which would have been much more helpful to the reader as a scene earlier in the novel, and the time when Tsukuru sits and watches trains in Finland, which again would have made more sense given in chronological order (although it would have ruined his concision a bit).

Perhaps Murakami is attempting to mirror Tsukuru’s thought process, so these things come and go as they do in his mind. But it could just be a lack of revision, which Sgt. Tanuki covers in his blog post (which I’m glad I didn’t see until just recently…so that it didn’t color (get it?) my own review):

I enjoyed parts of it a great deal, and overall I think it’s more successful than 1Q84 (although if 1Q84 had ended at Part II it would have been better than this). But I think it suffers from some of the flaws of that book, and I think they both could have been remedied if Murakami was the type of author to rewrite and revise, but it seems he’s not; he sits down to write and writes until he’s done, and then he’s done, is the way I hear it, and so in this book we get character arcs that are unnaturally truncated, character development coming as he thinks of it, not as it’s needed, subplots and subtexts coming and going seemingly at random; and we get passages of flabby prose, where he’s clearly riffing, trying to find the melody that will carry him to the next plot point or epiphany. The last fifty pages of the book were positively maddening in this respect: anticlimactic, repetitive, aimless, but including passages of great insight and beauty that, if they’d been placed elsewhere in the book, would have made a great deal of sense.

The most damning criticism I’ve seen so far comes from O’Hagan:

What I learned is that, like other Murakami characters before him, Tsukuru seems to have grown older without really growing up. His discontents are essentially adolescent and one cannot help harbouring the suspicion that the majority of Murakami’s vast global fanbase either recognise and share those discontents or are themselves adolescents.

Ouch. That hits close to home.

Phillip Gabriel’s translation seems very well done for the most part, but he does seem to miss a minor callback to a 1980 Murakami short story (one of his earliest), “A ‘Poor Aunt’ Story.” (Which you can find at Osakabe Yoshio’s site if you don’t have a New Yorker subscription.)

In the story, the narrator finds a “poor aunt” stuck on his back: “I first realized she was there in the middle of August. Not that anything in particular happened to alert me to her presence. I simply felt it one day: I had a poor aunt there on my back.”

In Tsukuru Tazaki, Sara offers to find his friends for Tsukuru:

“So tell me those four names. After that, you decide. Once I find out more about them, if you feel you don’t want to see them, then you don’t have to go ahead with it. That’s entirely up to you. But apart from that, personally, I’m curious about them. I want to find out more about these people who are still weighing you down.”

Here is the Japanese and my own translation:

だから四人の名前を私に教えて。あとのことはあなたが自分で決めればいい。いろんなことが明らかになった時点で、やはりその人たちと会いたくないと思うのなら、会わなければいい。それはあくまであなた自身の問題だから。でもそのこととは別に、私は個人的にその人たちに興味があるの。その四人についてもっとよく知りたいの。あなたの背中に今でも張り付いている人たちのことを.

Tell me their names. You can decide what happens after that. If, after certain things become clear, you still don’t want to see them, then you don’t have to. Because it’s your problem. But despite that, I just happen to be interested in them. I want to know more about them. About the people that are still, even now, imprinted on your back.

I don’t think Gabriel’s translation is an egregious change, but it does alter the character of the line a little.

I think Tsukuru Tazaki shares a lot with the story. In both, the protagonist suffers from a deep, unshakeable psychological condition, and in both, the condition has physical manifestations; the story has more fun with the magical realism, but in the novel, Tsukuru loses weight and looks like a totally different person afterward.

Overall, I thought the translation was okay. It didn’t keep me reading, although that might be because I already knew what was going to happen.

I did, however, enjoy the tension between Tsukuru and Sara, and at the end of the book, I found myself really sucked in, wanting to know how she felt, what she thought, what she was going to say. It was just a blip, the briefest moment, but there was a little magic there. Because you never know exactly how someone is taking in the world around you, even though it seems so definite and objective.

I’ll be curious to see what Murakami does next. His latest book of stories is only okay. I’d say he bats .250, which is pretty good for a baseball player, but not so hot for a short story writer. I know he’ll keep on swinging, though. Maybe he’s got a few more hits in him, but sadly I don’t think there are any home runs left.

Cool Compound – 前世

zensei

Hey folks, sorry I haven’t rapped at ya lately. I’m still working my way through 女のいない男たち, but it’s been slow going and has derailed my work on Hard-boiled Wonderland: I’ve only read two stories and the forward so far, and I skipped over “Drive My Car” (which I read in 文藝春秋 last fall), so I have 2.5 stories left. My attention span feels shot these days, thanks in part to work but also to the NBA playoffs (and now the Finals!). There were games every day for a while and then every other day, and now my Spurs are in the Finals again and the emotional toll is brutal: Controlling my emotional landscape is the game within the game.

Another thing is that the stories have been less than spectacular so far. “Drive My Car” was okay, from what I remember, but I don’t feel any desire to reread it in Japanese just yet, maybe once the translation comes out. “Yesterday” will be in the June 9 fiction issue of the New Yorker and is already online for subscribers. It was okay. “Independent Organs” (it should definitely be “organ” and not “body” as I suggested in my post about the collection) was disappointing and a bit lame. So far “Scheherazade” has the most compelling start, and it partly has to do with the cool kanji compound 前世 (ぜんせい).

Even beginner students should be able to draw out the meaning of this compound based on the basic rules for kanji compounds. This is, I believe, one of the Adjective + Noun varieties. 前 (before) + 世 (world) = the previous world = past life.

The word gets used in this passage:

「私の前世はやつめうなぎだったの」とあるときシェエラザードはベッドの中で言った。「私にははっきりとした記憶があるの。水底で石に吸い付いて、水草にまぎれてゆらゆら揺れていたり、上を通り過ぎていく太った鱒を眺めていたりした記憶が」

“I was a lamprey in a past life,” Scheherazade said in bed one time. “I have distinct memories of it. Of sticking onto rocks at the bottom of the water, of slipping in between seaweed and waving in the current, of looking up at a fat trout as he passed overhead.”

So that’s a nice little passage, very typically Murakami, I’d say.

But I think these stories have bored me a little because there is just so little action. One commonality that ties them all together so far is that, much like the stories in Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round, storytelling itself is a theme. But Murakami was more adept at shifting between narrating the person telling the story and narrating action directly in that 1985 collection. And I believe they were shorter than these stories (eight stories as opposed to six spread out over fewer pages?). I’m curious to know why he’s chosen to work with the current length. My gut instinct is that these are the first short stories he’s written in a long time and he feels the need to have his form take a “step,” which maybe he felt he took with novels by writing 1Q84 (his attempt at a “comprehensive novel”).

At any rate, I have higher hopes for “Scheherazade,” and I’m curious to see what he does with the stories of shorter length toward the end of the collection. I’ll try to check back in before too long.

New Murakami Collection – “Men Without Women”

2014-04-22 16.02.45

I got the new Murakami short story collection Men Without Women in the mail today! Here are my initial impressions:

- It has a great cover. The art style is simple and almost like calligraphy in effect. I especially like the inclusion of a cat, which seems typically Murakami. The bar is also a nice touch, too, but the messy lawn under the tree gives the image its true power: it feels real and messy, very natural.

- It has a suitably cheesy sales pitch on the cover: “A world of Murakami short stories for the first time in 9 years. The stories are deeper, more poignant, and beyond expectation.”

- Here is the index:

Forward – 8 pages
“Drive My Car” – 52 pages
“Yesterday” – 52 pages
“Independent Bodies” – 52 pages
“Scheherazade” – 42 pages
“Kino” – 52 pages
“Men Without Women”- 22 pages

Murakami was impressively consistent with the length of stories, and I realize now (looking at the publishing history at the back of the book) that this is likely because all the stories were published in Bungeishunju. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know this earlier (and therefore didn’t blow cash on individual issues other than the very first one). Only the final story is a brand new 書き下ろし (kakioroshi).

- Notes on story titles: A couple of Beatles songs in there. One 1001 Arabian Nights reference. One nod to Hemingway. A Japanese pun (独立器官 = independent organs instead of 独立機関 = independent bodies?). And a Japanese surname (木野 = Kino).

- He includes a forward, which he immediately notes that he does not enjoy doing but had to for this collection due to the way it came about (ooh, very interesting…I’ll save the rest of the read for my commute tomorrow).

- Looks like a fun read! I’m sad to say that we’re well beyond Murakami’s early collections which were looser, more abstract, and contained shorter stories. I’ll probably start reading this week and may or may not liveblog at some point this weekend. I make no promises: It is the NBA postseason.

Compassion

Chapter 17 “End of the World, Charlie Parker, Time Bomb” is a very short chapter, which is fortunate because it’s largely exposition: The scientist’s granddaughter has arrived at Watashi’s apartment, and they chat about what the grandfather must be up to, messing around in Watashi’s head with shuffling. She sneaks into his bed, making this a very softcore sexposition of sorts, which dials up the tension a bit, but otherwise it’s pretty plain, and short.

There is only one minor cut by Birnbaum (or his editor) in a section that is a brief break from the exposition to do some character detail. Check it out:

「学校教育というのは16年間かけて脳味噌を擦り減らすだけのところだって祖父は言ってたわ。祖父もほとんど学校に行かなかったのよ」

「たいしたもんだ」と私は言った。「でも同じ年頃の友だちがいないっていうのは淋しくないの?」

「さあ、どうかしら。私とても忙しかったから、そんなこと考える暇もなかったの。それに私、どうせ同じ年頃の人たちとは話もあいそうになかったし…...」

「ふうん」と私は言った。まあそうかもしれない。

「でも私、あなたにはすごく興味あるのよ」

「どうして?」

「だって、なんだか疲れてるみたいだし、でも疲れていることが一種のエネルギーになっているみたいだしね。そういうのって、私にはよくわからないの。私の知っている人でそういうタイプの人って一人もいないかったの。祖父も決して疲れたりしない人だし、私もそうだし。ねえ、ほんとうに疲れてるの?」

「たしかにに疲れてる」と私は言った。二十回繰りかえして言ってもいいくらいのものだ。

「疲れるってどういうことなのかしら?」と娘が訊ねた。

「感情のいろんなセクションが不明確になるんだ。自己に対する憐憫、他者に対する怒り、他者に対する憐憫、自己に対する怒り———そいうものがさ」

「そのどれもよくわからないわ」

「最後には何もかもがよくわからなくなるのだ。いろんな色に塗りわけたコマをまわすのと同じことでね、回転が速くなればなるほど区分が不明確になって、結局は混沌に至る」

「面白そうだわ」と太った娘は言った。「あなたはそういうことにすごくくわしいのね、きっと」

「そう」と私は言った。私は人生をむしばむ疲労感について、あるいは人生の中心からふつふつと湧きおこってくる疲労感について、百とおりくらいの説明をすることができるのだ。そういうことも学校教育では教えてもらえないもののひとつだ。

「あなたアルト・サックス吹ける?」と彼女が私に訊ねた。

「吹けない」と私は言った。(242-243)

“School is just sixteen years of wearing down your brain—that’s what grandpa always said. And he hardly went to school either.”

“That’s impressive,” I said. “But weren’t you lonely without any friends your own age?”

“Hmm, I dunno. I was just so busy I never had time to think about it. And, come to think of it, I just never had anything to say to kids my own age.”

“Hmm,” I said. I guess she could be right.

“But I’m really curious about you.”

“Why?”

“You just always seem so exhausted, but that exhaustion seems to turn into a form of energy or something. I just don’t get it. I don’t know a single other person like that. Grandpa never gets tired, and neither do I. So, are you actually tired for real?”

“I definitely am,” I said. You could say that again twenty times.

“What’s it like to be tired?” she asked.

“Different parts of your emotions become unclear: Compassion toward your self, anger toward others, compassion toward others, anger toward yourself—those kinds of things.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Eventually nothing makes sense. It’s like spinning a top painted in different colors. The faster it goes, the more difficult it is to differentiate between them, and it ends in total confusion.”

“Sounds interesting!” the chubby girl said. “You seem to really know a lot about it.”

“Yeah,” I said. I could tell you anything you want to know about exhaustion that devours your life, exhaustion that bubbles out from the center of your being. That’s something else they don’t teach you in school.

“Can you play alto sax?” she asked me.

“I can’t,” I said.

It’s a nice little section. I’ve ended it awkwardly, right as the granddaughter gets a little ADD and then tries to make a move on Watashi, but he sets her straight and they get back to talking about the scientist and his experiments.

BOHE, on the other hand, makes this brief section even shorter and cuts all the sections highlighted in red above:

“Grandfather always said school’s a place where they take sixteen years to wear down your brain. Grandfather hardly went to school either.”

“Incredible,” I said. “But didn’t you feel deprived not having friends your own age?”

“Well, I can’t really say. I was so busy, I never had time to think about it. And besides, I don’t know what I could have said to people my own age.”

“Hmm.”

“On the other hand,” she perked up, “you fascinate me.”

“Huh?”

“I mean, here you are so exhausted, and yet your exhaustion seems to give you a kind of vitality. It’s tremendous,” she chirped. “I bet you’d be good at sax!”

“Excuse me?” (178)

Birnbaum cuts the section that gives Watashi the opportunity to become introspective and think about how he feels, and then to express that to the granddaughter. Not a tremendous loss, but it does start to create an image that will be important later in the book: Spinning around. It took me a second to remember that コマ means top in Japanese, but the spinning and colors makes me think of “Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round,” which Murakami uses as an image in a later chapter.

At any rate, just minor stuff here, but nice minor stuff. Murakami concisely and compellingly describes what it’s like to be tired and how control over your emotions (compassion and anger) fractures. It’s important to be compassionate to yourself and to others. It’s difficult to do that when you’re exhausted.

When looking up the phrase 百とおりくらい (which I’m still not sure I totally understand), I located a personal blog post (JP) that mentions this passage in particular and suggests that the feelings expressed reflect the protagonist and the author’s feelings about life at the time of writing – Murakami would have been about the same age as his protagonist at the time, so I think that’s probably a good guess.