Translation Pre-order – Masquerade and the Nameless Women

It’s official—the translation I did for Vertical this summer is available for pre-order. It’s been up for a little while, but I wanted to wait until the cover was on Amazon to let everyone know. Take a look. They put your boy on the cover:

The book is Eiji Mikage’s 殺人鬼探偵の捏造美学 (Satsujinki tantei no netsuzō bigaku), which works out to something like “The Serial Killer Detective’s Fabricated Aesthetic.” Here’s the Japanese cover:

There are lots of fun variations on this. Detective Serial Killer’s Invented Aesthetic. The Invented Aesthetic of the Serial Killer Detective. The Japanese cover also has the suggested translation “Masquerade’s Fabricated Aesthetic.” Of these variations I think “Masquerade’s Invented Aesthetic” might be closest to what Mikage was going for.

Clearly we went in a different direction with the English title. I’m really happy that Vertical took one of my suggestions. The title is drawn from the text and I think creates forward momentum for the reader. I had a few other options, but I think I’ll wait to share them when the book is published.

This reminds me that I recently learned the Spanish translation for Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is Tokio Blues. I was having a conversation with a Venezuelan and briefly thought there was some Murakami book I wasn’t familiar with until she described the opening: a Japanese man lands in Germany and “Norwegian Wood” is playing over the airplane speakers as the passengers disembark.

I think this title translation borders on criminal. “Norwegian Wood” is so effective as a title because (assuming the reader is familiar with the Beatles, which isn’t a huge assumption to be making) the song title itself is incredibly potent and generative. You have the sound of the song, of course, but also whatever memories and experiences you have wrapped up with the song, which is exactly how the novel begins—Toru’s near physical pain at everything he associates with the song.

The translation demolishes that and replaces it with an incredibly simple summary of the book…although I will admit that it does summarize the book somewhat effectively, lol. Are the Beatles just not as popular in Spanish-speaking countries? I find that difficult to imagine. I’d chalk this up to an overeager translator/publisher.

A quick Wikipedia perusal shows that most translations leave the song title, but French and German also commit crimes.

The French title is La Ballade de l’impossible (The Ballad of the Impossible), which is garbage, and the German is Naokos Lächeln (Naoko’s Smile), which is better—likely drawn from the text, kind of hints at how the narrator is feeling—but still #NotGreatBob.

I hope that my title translation hasn’t done this much damage. Obviously it’s done some, at least when it comes to authorial intentions. But I do think the English will benefit from this new title. We’ll see.

So go get a pre-order at your favorite bookseller! I should note the trigger warnings: gore, suggested statutory rape, suggested incest (・・;)

Magnetic Lassos and Other Translation Thoughts

Wrangling a translation.

The last five months have flown by. In March I moved on from my job with the Japanese Consulate into a new position here in Chicago that still has me connected with Japan. My exit from the consulate position was comically awfully, due to no fault of my own (…well, not really). I’ll resist spilling the details here, but you should definitely buy me a drink sometime and force me to tell you about it.

During the week in between jobs, I was contacted about translating a Japanese light novel. I started a sample translation the same week I started the new job, and the offer for the project came two weeks after that.

And for the five months since, I’ve been translating at a pace of about two 文庫本 (bunkobon, paperback) pages a day. Some days I did significantly more, and I took off a few days here and there and about two weeks to travel to Japan for a conference in May.

I submitted the translation last Sunday and wanted to record my thoughts about the experience while they’re still fresh in case they’re of use to anyone (and so that I can remember what this felt like when I’m 95).

Logistics:

  • I submitted the translations in two halves with two invoices, minus a small advance that came immediately upon accepting the project (which was taken from the first half payment). I had about the same amount of time for each half.
  • I won’t discuss my rate other than to say that I tried to get close to what I request for most translations (a fairly reasonable rate, as far as I’m aware). I wish I’d kept track of the hours I spent on the project because I’m confident I spent more hours on this project than I do on most translation work. Not that I slack off on other projects, but fiction is an entirely different beast.

Translation:

  • Given everything I had going on in life (mostly: day job, brewing beer, attempting to have a social life), I set a pace and stuck to it. Two pages/day was the average mark I tried to hit, but this was easier for the first half. I had a convergence of obstacles that slowed the start of translating the second half and upped my page quota. But even during the first half I tried to do closer to 3-4 pages a day. I ended up with about a week to revise for both deliveries. The quota was a helpful way to keep track of how I was doing but also to give myself permission to take breaks.
  • Something I realized (that may be obvious) is that not every page of fiction is created equally. Some pages are dense with description and others are lean with dialogue. And then there were the two pages near the end of the novel that were, mercifully, verbatim copies of a section from the beginning of the novel. This is another important reason to set a pace quota. You’re basically page-time averaging, although it’s also good to be aware of what the terrain looks like as you progress.
  • I did not read the novel in advance. Thankfully, this didn’t screw me later on in the translation process…I don’t think. I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken for me to read the novel (maybe 10-14 days based on previous paces), but that would’ve cut into my translation and revision calendar. Over the course of the project, however, I did start to read ahead. I read a few pages ahead on my commutes, just to get an idea of what was coming up, or even just a page or two as I was translating. This was generally “skimming” rather than looking up every word, but it was important to get a feel for the text. If this project confirmed anything for me, it was that you have to translate on the paragraph and page level and not the sentence level.
  • Having both a Kindle and Paper version was helpful. I managed to get a full copy of the book right away with Kindle, so I was off to the races, but it was reassuring to see my progress through the paper copy. It also came handy during revision when I could have the book version open and use my phone for a dictionary app instead of the Kindle app.
  • I do have some major complaints about the Kindle app. The app limits the number of times you can copy and paste from the text. Once you’ve reached the limit, you’re out of luck. This can make it difficult to find the reading of words you don’t know because the Kindle dictionary will only find exact matches (i.e. no inflected verbs or adjectives). You can also use the “share” feature to export text to email and instant message, but this feature is also limited. I mean, I get why they’re doing this, but I also have a hard time imagining that someone would copy and paste an entire ebook. Although maybe I’m underestimating Japanese internet pirates.
  • A portion of what I made from this project paid for my Japanese teacher, and it was well worth it. During my week between jobs, I hired a Japanese teacher over Skype to brush up some of my business Japanese. This ended up being extremely convenient; once the translation project started, we just shifted to my questions about the book. I used the Kindle app to highlight the sections I had questions about and then took screenshots. I sent my teacher the screenshots, and we went over the questions an hour at a time. I found these sessions to be most helpful if I reviewed the sections of the text before the lesson. It was also important to take notes on her explanations and then to make the revisions necessary as soon as possible. And there were definitely revisions necessary. I’m not sure how I imagined translators when I first started studying Japanese and then translating myself, but I think there’s a certain sense that they are supposed to be flawless experts who know every word immediately. It’s safe to say that this isn’t true. It’s critical to have someone to bounce text off of when you don’t understand it. It doesn’t do any good to be too proud to admit you don’t understand something. My teacher helped me figure out some pop culture puns, countless grammar patterns, and general nuances for different sections. She also made fun of me when I asked questions that were too easy. “Just translate it however, it doesn’t matter,” she said a couple of time, ha. I don’t usually promote services, but I can safely recommend Linguage. I believe they have a physical school in Japan, but they also do introductions to online teachers. You can buy sets of 10 lessons, and they cost less than $30/lesson (although this varies with the exchange rate), which seems extremely fair. My teacher actually lives in Germany, which makes the time difference less of an issue.
  • Revise as you go. This is a mistake I made in the first half. I was doing all these Japanese lessons but also so concerned about keeping pace that I pressed forward rather than take a half hour after each lesson to fix what we’d just gone over. I adjusted my process for the second half of the novel. Not only did I make the revisions from the lesson immediately, I did a read through after each chapter and revised as much as I could so that the final revision wouldn’t take as long as it did during the first half. I think this probably made the final revisions easier as well.
  • For the final revision, I tried to read the translation and focus on the English as an entirely separate product. Does the language make sense? Are there any phrases that could be more natural, and would it be too much of a stretch to simplify or combine words/phrases? What exactly was the author trying to say with this section and has that been communicated? I looked at the Japanese as necessary, but it’s an important step to take the English on its own.
  • The metaphor that came to me as I was working was the Photoshop magnetic lasso feature. Translation doesn’t produce an identical product as the original, but it does resemble that original. I like to think that there’s some ideal English product, even though this isn’t true. I do think there are more ideal phrasings (or maybe more natural phrases) than others and that the translation should stick to the original loosely in the way that the magnetic lasso sticks to the outline of an object. If your language strays from the original, you’ll notice. If the language is too far off, the reader will notice as well, even without knowing the shape of the original. I have some examples of this from the revision process that I’ll be able to share when it comes out.

I’ll share more information when I can. It’s a relief to be done! I can adapt the adage and say that it feels better to have translated than to translate, but to be honest not by much! It’s fun to be in there with the text, wrestling with what the Japanese means and how to convey it in English. By my measure, translating fiction is far more pleasurable than writing fiction.

My Translation Desktop

Monday night in Kanda, May 2018. Apropos of nothing other than that I, too, am a hardworking person.

I only vaguely remember my first electronic dictionary. I know I had a very small one I bought in Akihabara in 2003 that deftly jumped around between kanji and compounds. But I left it in a classroom when I got back to the states and someone took it. I’d written my name on it, I think, but it smeared a little.

I bought a new one on Amazon Japan first thing when I moved into my JET apartment, but it was bigger and bulkier and didn’t do the same tasks, despite being the same brand. Should’ve stuck with old reliable.

This was 2005, and I didn’t end up using the dictionary all that much. I switched over to the Nintendo DS kanji dictionary, which made it a breeze to draw out kanji I didn’t recognize. Since I got a smartphone in 2012, I haven’t even used that all that much.

Some of my reading I do either “skimming,” without looking up each word, and the rest (which I’m likely doing for JT articles or translation work), I’m right next to the computer and have the internet at my fingertips.

Part of the reason I can find these characters is Jim Breen. I was in the Japan Times late last month with a profile of him and a look at his WWWJDIC and underlying EDICT dictionary files: “At 180,000 entries, Jim Breen’s freeware Japanese dictionary is still growing.”

Jisho.org has been my favorite EDICT-based resource. I know that WWWJDIC has the mult-radical method as well, and maybe I should give the website another chance, but I just find Jisho so easy to use and well designed.

It’s also not often that I have to look up characters. I’m working on a big translation project that I hope to share soon, and I’m reading the text through Kindle on my iPhone, which I’ve written about previously.

I do have major complaints with the dictionary feature. Unlike Jisho, you have to hit the exact word or else it won’t return any hits. Which basically means you can’t search for conjugated verbs or adjectives or you have to hope that the individual kanji has a separate meaning/reading that will then enable you to find it with other stuff.

And my most major complaint with the Kindle is the limit on your ability to copy and paste text. I mean, I get it. You don’t want people copying and pasting the entire text, but it was so damn easy to copy from the iPhone and then paste on my desktop through the MacOS/iOS integration. There must be a way to allow copying and pasting single phrases/words with no limit. We have software smart enough to do this.

So my basic translation desktop setup is this:

Kenkyushu Green Goddess (5th edition) app open on my iPhone (for deep dives into usages and meanings that aren’t easily summarized in a few words)

And the following browser tabs, in no particular order:
http://jisho.org (for basic word look up)
http://www.alc.co.jp (for usage and context clues)
http://thesaurus.com (to give a tired English brain some alternatives or inspiration)
https://ejje.weblio.jp/ (for more diverse and at times reliable context and usage clues)
https://kotobank.jp/ (for Japanese definitions in order to more fully understand a word)

What am I missing? I feel like there must be an easier way to look up individual kanji. Any suggestions?

面白い

I shared my most recent Japan Times article on the Facebook group Translators (Japanese<->English) because someone had mentioned the Green Goddess a month or so ago, and strangely enough Jim Breen himself responded! I’m fairly chuffed about this comment:

Breen

So now when you look up 面白い there’s a third listing that includes the definition “pleasant; enjoyable; agreeable; fun.” I can’t seem to find an archived version, so I’m not sure exactly how much it’s changed. Can’t seem to find a way to link a specific definition either, so here’s the JDIC top page.

So, yeah, that was cool.

2nd JLPP Translation Competition English Quotes

Just a quick post to share some knowledge. I’m working on my translations for the 2nd JLPP Translation Competition. It’s a little late to get started if you haven’t already, but if you’re working on 「昭和が発見したもの」, then this might be useful.

In the essay, there are several quotes from foreign scholars given in Japanese. I think it’s a mistake to try and translate these yourself. The translations really should be provided by the JLPP, in my opinion, because not including them tests your Google skills rather than your translation ability.

At any rate, I believe I’ve managed to track them all down (so far), and I thought I’d share them. Here they are:

Isaiah Berlin: “I have lived through most of the twentieth century without, I must add, suffering personal hardship. I remember it only as the most terrible century in Western history.”

René Dumont: “I see it (the twentieth century) only as a century of massacres and wars.”

William Golding: “the most violent century in human history”

Peter Gay: “It remains one of the achievements of which the dismal twentieth century can rightfully boast: it has raised Mozart’s music—all of it—to the eminence it deserves.”

Hope that helps.

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:

shimatsu

It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:

「後始末」「跡始末」「始末書」「始末に負えない」などのように使います。

Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.

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.

Needs

motomeru

Chapter 16, “The Coming of Winter,” is another nice chapter in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World where Murakami is beginning to set up the major connections between the two parts of the novel that will play out in the second half: “Mind” and how it affects the people in the Town.

In this chapter, Boku wakes up sick, and the Colonel cares for him. He recovers slowly, has the Colonel deliver the map concealed in a shoe to his shadow, and finally visits the Librarian again.

There are no major revisions by Murakami between versions in this chapter, but Birnbaum (or his editor) [I should really just start calling this “BOHE” to be fair to Birnbaum; translators always take the blame, but editors could be equally if not more guilty] gets up to his old tricks of cutting the final few lines at the end of a section or the chapter in order to end with strong language.

Take this section:

「不思議なものですね」と僕は言った。「僕はまだ心を持っていますが、それでもときどき自分の心を見失ってしまうことがあるんです。いや、見失わない時の方が少ないかもしれないな。それでもそれがいつか戻ってくるという確信のようなものがあって、その確信が僕という存在をひとつにまとめて支えているんです。だから心を失うというのがどういうことなのかうまく想像できないんです」

老人は静かに何度か肯いた。

「よく考えてみるんだね。考えるだけの時間はまだ残されている」

「考えてみます」と僕は言った。 (231-232)

“It’s strange,” I say. “I still have my mind, but occasionally I seem to lose sight of it. Actually, the times when I don’t lose sight of it are far more infrequent. But I feel confident that it will return at some point, and that confidence supports my entire existence. So it’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to lose one’s mind.”

The old man nods quietly. “Think about it long and hard. There’s plenty of time left for you to think.”

“I will,” I say.

I’m not happy with my translation of 見失う, but it’ll do for the purposes of comparison. I’ve also eliminated one of the line breaks to try and make it more clear that the Colonel is speaking. I was tempted to split his line with a dialogue tag. Here is what Birnbaum does:

“It is so strange,” I say. “I still have my mind, but there are times I lose sight of it. Or no, the times I lose sight of it are few. Yet I have confidence that it will return, and that conviction sustains me.” (170-171)

Hmm…interesting. Birnbaum [or his editor] seems to make a small error: He fails to notice the negative ending of the verb 見失う in the second usage. Which muddles the translation. Boku is trying to emphasize exactly how infrequently he is aware of the presence of his own mind.

More importantly for the purposes of this blog post, Birnbaum also cuts the final four lines (marked in red above). This is a nice strategic choice. He picks the strongest line and says BOOM, we’re done here, time to move on. His translation is wonderful: “That conviction sustains me” is a great forceful way to end. Strong, adaptive, creative translation. What do you think? Does he go to far here?

I forget whether I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but this might be a good point to remind readers that Birnbaum uses “mind” for 心 (kokoro), which I think makes a huge difference in the translation. I feel like the repetition of “heart” would start to get saccharine at some point and become less compelling over the course of the novel. Mind, on the other hand, is worth pursuing.

Birnbaum makes other cuts at the end of the whole chapter that have greater implications for the theme and language that Murakami uses in this chapter.

Boku gets to the library and waits for the Librarian. She takes a while to arrive, and when she does, he mentions that he thought she wouldn’t come:

「どうしてもう来ないなんて思ったの?」と彼女は言った。

「わからない」と僕は言った。「ただそんな気がしたんだ」

「あなたが求めている限り私はここに来るわ。あなたは私を求めているんでしょう?

僕は肯いた。確かに僕は彼女を求めているのだ。彼女に会うことによって、僕の喪失感がどれほど深まろうと、それでもやはり僕は彼女を求めているのだ。 (235)

“Why did you think I wouldn’t come?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I just had a feeling.”

“As long as you want me, I’ll come. You do want me here, right?

I nod. I definitely want her. My sense of loss deepens when I see her, but despite that I want her.

The key word we’re looking at here is 求める (もとめる), which can be “want” or “request” (unless I’m misreading it?). I rendered it once as “want me here” because I wasn’t quite bold enough to have Boku say “I want you” directly to the Librarian. As you can see in the translation, Birnbaum also avoids this through cuts and by translating 求める as “need”:

“Did you not think I would come?” she asks.

“I do not know,” I say. “It was just a feeling.”

“I will come as long as you need me.”

Surely I do need her. Even as my sense of loss deepens each time we meet, I will need her.” (173)

Birnbaum also cuts the few lines (highlighted in red) where Boku explicitly acknowledges his need/desire for her when she asks. The result is a much more implicit (dare I say “Japanese”?) conversation.

But this section is also interesting when read alongside cuts at the end of the chapter:

「君は君の影が戻ってきたとき彼女に会ったのかい?」

彼女は首を振った。「いいえ、会わなかったわ。私には彼女に会う理由がないような気がしたの。それはきっと私とはまるでべつのものだもの」

「でもそれは君自身だったかもしれない」

「あるいはね」と彼女は言った。「でもどちらにしても今となっては同じことよ。もう輪はとじてしまったんだもの」

ストーヴの上でポットが音を立てはじめたが、それは僕には何キロも遠くから聞こえてくる風の音のように感じられた。

「それでもまだあなたは私を求めているの?」

「求めている」と僕は答えた。 (236)

“Did you meet your shadow when she came back?”

She shakes her head. “No, I didn’t. I felt like there wasn’t any reason to meet her. I just felt like she was something totally separate from me.”

“But maybe she was part of yourself.”

“Maybe so,” she says. “But it’s all the same either way now. The circle has already closed.”

The pot on the stove starts to rattle, but it sounds like the wind miles in the distance.

“Do you still want me?”

“I do,” I say.

And here is how Birnbaum renders this scene:

“Did you meet with your shadow before she died?”

She shakes her head. “No, I did not see her. There was no reason for us to meet. She had become something apart from me.”

The pot on the stove begins to murmur, sounding to my ears like the wind in the distance. (173)

Again I’ve marked the redacted lines in red, and again you can see that Birnbaum cuts 求める. The communication between the two characters becomes far more implicit in translation than in the Japanese, which ratchets up the tension.

I don’t normally like stories/chapters/writing that begin or end with dialogue, but the original Japanese isn’t bad as far as dialogue goes. It feels decisive, especially when rendered into English where it isn’t necessary to repeat the actual verb itself. But Birnbaum’s translation also has its appeal, and it reminds me why I loved/love the novel so much and why it hit me so forcefully when I read it at 17 (15 years ago, damn): That unresolved, unspoken tension made me wonder whether Boku would be able to connect with the Librarian, and I kept turning the pages to find out.

More Investigations

Back to the real point of this blog – yeah, it’s a Murakami blog these days despite my two recent posts on the Japanese language. If you’re a new reader, here’s the idea: Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World presents an interesting case study in translation and author revision. Alfred Birnbaum translated creatively (perhaps too creatively at times), and Murakami himself made changes in the text for the version that appears in the 1990 Complete Works box set. Birnbaum’s translation was published in 1991 by Kodansha International.

Chapter 15 “Whiskey, Torture, Turgenev” does not have many changes. Birnbaum makes a few creative leaps here and there, but nothing outside of a translator’s regular poetic license. In this chapter, the goons cut Watashi’s belly, his coworkers from the System come check him out, he gets sewn up at the hospital, he reads some Russian literature, has a nap, and then gets a call from the granddaughter.

There is one paragraph that gets cut between the two Japanese versions. Take a look at the 1985 version:

私は本を閉じて残り少ないジャック・ダニエルズを喉の奥に送り込みながら、壁に囲まれた世界のことをしばらく考えた。私はその壁や門の姿を比較的簡単に思い浮かべることができた。とても高い壁で、とても大きな門だ。そしてしんとしている。そして私自身がその中にいる。しかし私の意識はとてもぼんやりとしていて、まわりの風景を見きわめることはできなかった。街全体の風景は細部まではっきるとわかるのだが、私のまわりだけがひどくぼんやりとかすんでいるのだ。そしてその不透明なヴェールの向うから誰かが私をよんでいた。

それはまるで映画の光景のようだったので、私はこれまでに観た歴史映画の中にそういうシーンがなかったかと思いかえしてみた。しかし『エル・シド』にも『ベン・ハー』にも『十戒』にも『聖衣』にも『スパルタカス』にも、そんなシーンはなかった。とすればそんな光景はおそらく私の気まぐれなでっちあげなのだろう。

おそらくその壁は私の限定された人生を暗示しているのに違いない、と私は思った。しんとしているのは音抜きの後遺症だ。あたりの風景がかすんでいるのは私の想像力が壊滅的危機に直面しているからだ。私をよんでいるのはたぶんあのピンク色の娘だ。(277-278)

And now the 1990 version, which is clearly missing a paragraph:

私は本を閉じて残り少ないジャック・ダニエルズを喉の奥に送り込みながら、壁に囲まれた世界のことをしばらく考えた。私はその壁や門の姿を比較的簡単に思い浮かべることができた。とても高い壁で、とても大きな門だ。そしてしんとしている。そして私自身がその中にいる。しかし私の意識はとてもぼんやりとしていて、まわりの風景を見きわめることはできなかった。街全体の風景は細部まではっきるとわかるのだが、私のまわりだけがひどくぼんやりとかすんでいるのだ。そしてその不透明なヴェールの向うから誰かが私をよんでいた。

私は頭を振ってそんなイメージを追い払った。私はつかれているのだ。おそらくその壁は私の限定された人生を暗示しているのに違いない、と私は思った。しんとしているのは音抜きの後遺症だ。あたりの風景がかすんでいるのは私の想像力が壊滅的危機に直面しているからだ。私をよんでいるのはたぶんあのピンク色の娘だ。(221-222)

Strangely, Birnbaum’s translation includes aspects from each of these versions. I’ve marked the matching segments in red and blue above and below:

I shut the book and bid the last thimbleful of Jack Daniel’s farewell, turning over in my mind the image of a world within walls. I could picture it, with no effort at all. A very high wall, a very large gate. Dead quiet. Me inside. Beyond that, the scene was hazy. Details of the world seemed to be distinct enough, yet at the same time everything around me was dark and blurred. And from some great obscure distance, a voice was calling.

It was like a scene from a movie, a historical blockbuster. But which? Not El Cid, not Ben Hur, not Spartacus. No, the image had to be something my subconscious dreamed up.

I shook my head to drive the image from my mind. I was so tired.

Certainly, the walls represented the limitations hemming in my life. The silence, residue of my encounter with sound-removal. The blurred vision of my surroundings, an indication that my imagination faced imminent crisis. The beckoning voice, the everything-pink girl, probably. (164)

Birnbaum’s translation includes the paragraph about movies from the 1985 version (although Birnbaum cuts The Ten Commandments (十戒) and The Robe (聖衣) to fit the English “rule of three”), but it also includes the line that Murakami uses to replace that daydream: 私は頭を振ってそんなイメージを追い払った。私はつかれているのだ。Birnbaum gives them their own paragraph.

This seems to suggest one of two things: Either Birnbaum was translating based on both the original and revised versions, or Murakami made his revisions based on Birnbaum’s “adapted” translation.

Based on publication date alone, it seems like the former must be true, but I’m not so sure. The translation easily could have been completed in 1988 and then taken three years to finalize. We know from Jay Rubin’s book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words that Rubin was asked to vet Hard-boiled Wonderland in Japanese for a publisher and that Birnbaum had already been selected to translate the book (and perhaps he already had). That would have given Murakami time to look over his own manuscript, especially if Birnbaum had cleared changes with him and pointed out locations he adapted.

More investigations are required.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how nice a chapter this is. It’s long, but Murakami plays the Murakami game and lets his narrator get drunk and ramble with charm about Turgenev, Stendahl, and Dostoevsky before the thought process comes full circle and links both halves of the book. Magic.

Weak and Uncertain

Mori

Chapter 14 is “Woods” in the End of the World section. Appropriately, autumn ends and winter begins in this chapter. (Spoiler alert: Like the winter of 2013-14, the winter in the book never ends. Snow on the ground in the last chapter, if I remember correctly.) Boku talks with the Colonel, receives a jacket from him along with warnings about the change in weather, and then hustles to finish up the map for his shadow. Doing so involves trips into the woods. He sits to take a nap at one point, awakes cold and feverish, and then stumbles back to the Town in a daze where the Librarian takes care of him.

There is a well in this chapter, one of Murakami’s pet images/symbols. Interestingly, it’s filled in. Other than that there isn’t much to say. No major cuts by Birnbaum or revisions by Murakami in this chapter. It’s short and sweet. I had to dig pretty deep to find anything at all to write about, but I did find a few sentences Birnbaum cut:

しかしどれだけ森の奥を歩くことが心地良くとも、僕はやはり完全に壁を離れることはできなかった。森の奥は深く、一度そこに迷いこめば方向を見定めることさえ不可能だった。道もなく目じるしもない。だから僕は常に目の端に壁を捉えられる程度の距離を維持しながら注意深く森を進んだ。森が僕にとって味方なのか敵なのかを簡単に見きわめることはできなかったし、そのやすらぎと心地良さはあるいは僕をその中に誘いこむための幻想かもしれなかった。いずれにせよ、老人が指摘したように、この街にとって僕は弱く不安定な存在なのだ。どれだけ注意してもしすぎるということはない。

おそらく森の奥に本格的に足を踏み入れなかったせいだとは思うが、僕は森に住む人々の痕跡をひとつとして目にすることはできなかった。足跡もなければ、人が何かに手を触れたような形跡もなかった。僕は森の中で彼らに出会うことをなかば怖れ、なかば期待していたが、何日歩きまわってみても彼らの存在を暗示するような出来事は何ひとつ起こらなかった。彼らはたぶんもっと奥の方に暮らしているのだろうと僕は推測した。それとも僕の姿を巧妙に避けているかだ。(200)

But no matter how nice it is to walk through the woods, I can never completely separate myself from the Wall. The woods are deep, and if I got lost, it would be impossible to reorient myself; there are no roads and no landmarks. So I continue through the woods with extreme care, always staying close enough so I can always keep the Wall in my periphery. I can’t tell whether the woods are friend or foe, nor whether the tranquility and comfort are merely an illusion meant to lure me in. At any rate, as the Colonel said, my existence is, to the Town, weak and uncertain. I can’t be too cautious.

Perhaps because I never truly entered the deepest part of the woods, I am not able to spot a single trace of the people who live in the woods. Not their footsteps, nor evidence that they had touched anything. With equal parts fear and anticipation, I walk for several days, but there is nothing that would signal their existence. They must live deeper in the woods. Or maybe they are skillfully avoiding me.

As you can see, Birnbaum (or the editor) compresses the first paragraph, getting rid of the last three sentences:

No matter how pleasant this walk deeper into the Woods may be, I dare not relinquish sight of the Wall. For should I stray deep into the Woods, I will have lost all direction. There are no paths, no landmarks to guide me. I moderate my steps.

I do not meet any forest dwellers. I see not a footprint, not an artifact shaped by human hands. I walk, afraid, expectant. Perhaps I have not traveled far enough into the interior. Perhaps they are skillfully avoiding me. (147)

The more I think about it, the more I feel like this change in the translation is the result of an editor and not by Birnbaum. The key phrase—“weak and uncertain”—gets repeated later in the chapter: “My own existence seems weak, uncertain” (149). I can see an editor saying, “Hey, why’s this have to be in here twice?” I can see the red pen scratch out those last three lines and, in the margins, write “tl;dr: I moderate my steps.”

At any rate, not a translation crime worthy of a war trial. Not a cut that I would’ve made, though. I like the illusory nature of the woods, and I like the uncertainty that gets repeated.