I spent about a month preparing material for my liveblog of 1Q84 when it was released in 2009. I had bits of translation from his works, pieces of interviews I’d translated, write-ups about the beer I was drinking, and other fun links. I’ve got none of that this time! As with Murakami Fest 2011, my liveblog of the English translation will be fast and loose…and hopefully not too boring. (On a side note, this past year I’ve noticed that English professors love using that term “fast and loose.”)
Comment away. Check me out on Twitter to see action updates when I leave the computer. I’ll start with the same caveat with which I began my liveblog of the original: What we’re doing doesn’t make sense, but we’re not doing it because it makes sense. Continue after the break for liveblog madness all weekend.
7:54 Good morning, New Orleans! Good morning, World! I’m breakfasted and my language processing centers are functioning at full capacity. I’m gonna hop in the shower. While you’re waiting, check out the WWOZ morning set, which today is a raucous set of brass band music. Usually it’s a jazzier set that Murakami would approve of.
8:25 Starting to read!
8:28 The first line: “The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast.” My rendering of it two years ago: “The taxi radio was playing an FM classical music program.” And the Japanese: タクシーのラジオは、FM放送のクラシック音楽番組を流していた。
8:36 Rubin makes a nice addition on page 4 to clear up the pronunciation of Aomame’s name:
“Aomame” was her real name. Her grandfather on her father’s side came from some little mountain town or village in Fukushima Prefecture, where there were supposedly a number of people who bore the name, written with exactly the same characters as the word for “green peas” and pronounced with the same four syllables, “Ah-oh-mah-meh.”
And the Japanese:
I’ve bolded the addition above. Without that added information, it would be impossible for English readers to have the same concept of the character (even though “green peas” doesn’t really have anything to do with the character at all…I don’t think…). Footnotes would be unwieldy. I wonder how necessary the pronunciation information is. Although, judging by a nonfiction workshop class where I submitted a piece with a few Japanese words, regular Americans (even educated ones) can’t pronounce Japanese at all.
8:47 Continuing with the bean-isms, here’s a great example of a translator smoothing out something into English:
This is literally something like:
Sometimes people mistakenly called her “Edamame-san.” At times she was also called “Soramame-san.”
Rubin combines these and the next sentence into a single sentence in the translation:
Some people would get the name of the plant wrong and call her “Edamame” or “Soramame,” whereopon she would gently correct them: “No, I’m not soybeans or fava beans, just green peas.”
The translation gets around the choppy nature of the original sentences. I wonder if someone reading the Japanese would find it to flow in the way the English does.
9:01 Awesome translation of ふと思う on page 7: “Aomame found herself thinking of…” What a great way to put it.
9:17 Page 11: OK, good. Aomame’s face is just as weird in English as it was in Japanese…I wasn’t just misreading stuff. Such a strange passage about her contorting her face.
9:24 Done with Chapter 1! In Japanese the first chapter took me 2.5 hours while liveblogging. In English, just one hour. This is how things are supposed to be.
Chapter 1 felt heavy handed, especially the ominous remarks from the taxi driver. Blah.
9:37 And the first line of Chapter 2: “Tengo’s first memory dated from the time he was one and a half.” My rendering from the liveblog: “Tengo’s first memory was from when he was one and a half.” And the Japanese: 天吾の最初の記憶は一歳半のときのものだ。
ASPIRING STUDENTS OF THE LANGUAGE SHOULD NOTE: The translation is rendered in past tense even though the Japanese is in the “present” tense. In the words of my first year text book Japanese: The Spoken Language: “Finished versus unfinished is the significant contrast in Japanese, whereas English speakers tend to think in terms of three time distinctions: past, present, and future.” This is something I’m still wrapping my brain around.
9:49 Sidenote: 1Q84, the book, smells really nice.
9:53 Tengo’s sweats during his “attacks” are reminiscent of the character in the short story “Baseball Field” (野球場) from the collection Dead-Heat on a Merry-Go-Round. Come to think of it, the characters themselves might even be a little similar. This will require further research.
10:03 Long section added or reordered on page 16 to get an earlier explanation of Fuka-Eri’s name, very similar to the Aomame section but longer and in conversation between Tengo and Komatsu.
10:06 Page 17. Komatsu: “I never read these new writer prize submissions from beginning to end. I even reread some parts of this one. Let’s just say the planets were in perfect alignment.”
Nice use of italics in translation, and Murakami is setting up his intergalactic planetary theme early. Not sure I noticed that in Japanese.
10:09 Whoa! Just noticed that Shimbashi Station makes an appearance in that Beastie Boys video I just linked. Check out 00:58 and you can see the mural thingie on the wall above the stairway that heads down to the Yokosuka Line tracks/Ginza Line transfer exit.
10:11 “Komatsu set his cigarette in an ashtray and rubbed the side of his nose with the middle finger of his right hand.”
I’ve known a few foreigners who have mistaken this for an impolite gesture, but there’s no concept of shooting the bird in Japan. This should be proof of that; Komatsu is not flicking off Tengo because he’s a tool.
10:16 Jay Rubin droppin’ slang on page 17: “The members of the selection committee would faint–or more likely have a shit fit.” In Japanese: 選考委員の先生方はひっくり返っちゃうぜ。怒り出すかもしれない。
10:20 Great example of DON’T LISTEN TO THE 外来語: Rubin translates 「俺はこの作品については、ちょっとした別のアイディアを持っているんだ」 as “I’ve got something else in mind for this story.”
10:27 Page 18: “First of all, look at this style. No amount of work is going to make it any better. It’s never going to happen. And the reason it’s never going to happen is that the writer herself doesn’t give a damn about style: she shows absolutely no intention of wanting to write well, of wanting to improve her writing.”
10:32 I’m really curious to know whether Komatsu as a character is based on Murakami’s own interactions with editors. He must be – I’m sure Murakami naturally incorporates aspects of known individuals into his characters, but I wonder whether Komatsu is based on someone specific.
10:52 Rubin adds one small line “Every writer’s dream!” on page 23 to give a little bit more explanation for the Akutagawa Prize. Fits in pretty nicely.
10:55 Ha: 図体はでかいが、 “You may be built like a lumberjack, but…”
11:01 Page 26 – this is where Murakami introduces Fuka-Eri’s real name in the Japanese version. So the translation was adjusted to have it make more sense in the English.
11:04 Done with Chapter 2. Same thoughts as with the Japanese version – Chapter 2 moves far more quickly than Chapter 1. Why are Aomame’s chapters so slow?!
11:05 Just realized the American version of the translation doesn’t have a chapter index at the beginning. Annoying. This was also true for the Wind-up Bird translation. This is why I picked up a UK version of the paperback in Thailand back in 2004. It wasn’t especially cheap, but the index made it worth it.
11:12 Sinfonietta combined with a lesbian sex scene feels like it can only be one of two things: either incredibly serious or a total joke. Not sure this one works in Murakami’s favor.
11:17 Longest emergency stairwell ever.
11:28 Overly complicated assassination scene? Check.
11:41 Done with Chapter 3. My big problem with this chapter, and so much of Aomame’s storyline (and Murakami’s works really), is that they make use of surprise rather than suspense. I hadn’t considered this before hearing about Hitchcock’s definition of the two on NPR the other day. Here’s how he defines them:
Four men is [sic] sitting at a table playing poker. The scene is rather boring. Suddenly, after 15 minutes, we hear a big bang – it turnes out there was a bomb under the table. This is called surprise as it isn’t what we expected would happen.
If we watch the same scene again with the important difference that we have seen the bomb being placed under the table and the timer set to 11 AM, and we can see a watch in the background, the same scene becomes very intense and almost unbearable – we are sitting there hoping the timer will fail, the game is interrupted or the hero leaves the table in time, before the blast. This is called suspense.
Aomame being an assassin is surprising and tense at times, but not the most delicately crafted suspense ever written.
11:54 Lunchtime and Chapter 4. When I return: Beer.
Lunch was ate. Onward.
12:56 Done with Chapter 5. We’ve met Fuka-Eri and her pneumatic breasts. We’ve learned about Tengo’s love of math and older women. We’re moving right along.
13:04 Thanks for the comments so far. There is (rightfully) some concern about spoilers, so I’ll just take this moment to note that I will be spoiling. Now, shhh…Aomame’s about to bed a bald guy.
13:35 Done with Chapter 5. It took me all of Friday to finish the first five chapters in Japanese, so I’m doing well. English is clearly my native language. Chapter 5 is seriously weak. Aomame sleeps with a bald guy, so we learn about her sexual tastes, and her furor when trying to get them satisfied. Her approach at the bar felt forced, as did the conversation about the change in police uniforms and guns. Ugg.
13:42 Well, maybe a beer will improve things. It might not make the book any better, but maybe I won’t notice as much. A spoon full of sugar, as it were…
This one was predictable. The book begins with Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta and Aomame imagining the winds blowing across the plains of Bohemia, so of course I picked up a six-pack of Pilsner Urquell, the original Czech pilsner. This is one of the great beers in the world. Supposedly the flavor of the beer has changed slightly since 1992 when the brewery replaced its massive oak fermentors with steel fermentors. Still tastes pretty damn good to me. Get you some.
14:30 Bullying (in Japanese いじめ) becomes a topic on page 71. Interesting because Japanese bullying is so different from my (American?) conception; whereas in the U.S. I think of stealing lunch money and being physically abusive, in Japan it’s much more a psychological game: “hiding things, not speaking to the child, or doing nasty imitations of her.”
I’ve occasionally wondered if bullying wasn’t a subtle topic in Norwegian Wood. Watanabe makes fun of his roommate Kamikaze, the stuttering, right-wing geography student, and often uses him as a way to get laughs with other characters in the book – notably Naoko on their walks across the city. Not exactly bullying, but not the sweetest way to charm a girlfriend either.
14:36 Here’s another example of a particularly 1Q84-y weakness of Murakami’s. Tengo is talking on the phone with his girlfriend about bullying, and then we have this passage:
This reminded Tengo of a certain event, something from the distant past that he would recall now and then. Something he could never forget. But he decided not to mention it. It would have been a long story. And it was the kind of thing that loses the most important nuances when reduced to words. He had never told anyone about it, and he probably never would.
So Tengo knows what he’s thinking about. The narrator knows what he’s thinking about, maybe. But the reader doesn’t. This frustrated me a little. Why not just give the event, even just a vague summary of it?
14:51 On to Chapter 7.
15:28 Gotta give Murakami one thing: He’s great at creating atmosphere. The translation in Chapter 7 of the butterfly-filled hothouse at the Willow House is pretty nice, and I think I have a better sense of it through the translation. Another thing I’ve realized is that Murakami might be more on the fence about Aomame’s profession than I initially thought. The way the old dowager comes across in English feels, to me, much less certain than what I could tell from the Japanese.
15:42 Done with Chapter 7. The biggest weakness of the novel rears its ugly head in this chapter. Aomame is discovering that she’s in a different version of reality – some things (specifically police officer uniforms and weapons) are not normal. She constantly tries to insinuate questions to get answers rather than straight up asking someone if the world has changed. For example, she asks Tamaru about when police weapons changed, and when he surprises her with an answer, we get this passage:
Aomame nodded without changing her expression. She had absolutely no recollection of such an event [massive gun fight between radical group and police], but all she could do now was play along with him.
Why does she have to play along? Why can’t she just ask him? The stakes are never explained. I feel like Murakami does this a lot – he assumes that characters’ actions are limited when they might not be – in his longer fiction, but here it feels especially egregious.
I’m going to continue reading but will head off to Avenue Pub soon for the New Orleans release of beers from Stillwater Artisan Ales. Follow me on my field trip on Twitter. I’ll be back later tonight (and tomorrow…and Sunday…) with more thoughts.
23:08 Back! Finished Chapter 8 but didn’t get a chance to read much more. I had a fun encounter with a taxi driver and his loud music on the way home, but he wasn’t listening to classical music – he was blasting classic R&B and recommended I check out Bob Dylan’s “Self Portrait,” which I plan to do as soon as I can. Until then, Chapter 9…
23:32 One note about Chapter 8. There’s a tiny section on page 99 that seems taken from Air Chrysalis, the book that Fuka-Eri wrote. The section just floats in the middle of the chapter almost meaninglessly. It’s almost as though someone copy and pasted it there by accident. I remember being confused by the Japanese as well.
23:43 Rubin has been translating Aomame’s trademark 顔を歪める as “scowl.”
23:47 As the newest New York Times review puts it, “You can’t swing a cat in his novels…without banging into an analogy.” And they’re starting to get a little tiresome.
00:02 One thing the translation has made clear is that Murakami really isn’t comfortable in third person. Huge portions of the novel are rendered in the first person thoughts of Aomame and Tengo, and in the English translation these are marked in italics, which makes them stand out more than they do in the Japanese original.
00:12 Awesome translation of the section in Chapter 9 where Aomame names the alternate universe. My translation two years ago was: “1Q84 – that’s what I’ll call this new world, decided Aomame. Q is the Q from ‘question mark.’ That which creates a question.”
The original Japanese is 1Q84—私はこの新しい世界をそのように呼ぶことにしよう、青豆はそう決めた。Qはquestion markのQだ。疑問を背負ったもの。
And Rubin’s great version is: “1Q84–that’s what I’ll call this new world, Aomame decided. Q is for “question mark.” A world that bears a question.”
00:24 It’s hard to take this book seriously when there are lines like this on page 111: “Constipation was one of the things she hated most in the world, on par with despicable men who commit domestic violence and narrow-minded religious fundamentalists.”
00:51 There have been a number of “stocking feet” usages. A couple in Aomame’s section, which make sense (because she was wearing stockings), but one just now in Chapter 10. Tengo and Fuka-Eri are out on the far western edge of Tokyo to visit her home. When they enter, we get this sentence: “The glossy wooden floor of the corridor felt cool against stocking feet as they walked down it to the large reception room.” The Japanese is 磨き上げられたひやりとした廊下を歩いて応接室に入った。”Stocking feet” feels just a little off to me.
1:01 OK, even though there’s only a single entendre when I say the characters aren’t making sense now, it still means it’s definitely time to go to bed. I’ll be up in 7 hours or so for more reading and commentary. Alright translation!
7:37 Morning! I’m reading.
7:40 Ebisuno-sensei, which is being translated as “Professor Ebisuno,” enters on page 115, and when he does, there is this sentence: “His back was as straight as if it had a steel rod in it, and he kept his chin pulled in smartly.” The chin line threw me a little, but as a translation it seems totally fine: The original is 顎がぐいと後ろに引かれている。 Perhaps a little over-specific as description. I had a hard time imagining it. I also wondered what it meant, but when I searched the Web for “chin pulled in,” I found this site about “face body language.” Apparently a pulled in chin means someone is afraid?
This jives with an earlier passage where Aomame enters the Willow House in Chapter 7: “Knowing that the security cameras were on her, she walked straight down the path, her back as erect as a fashion model’s, chin pulled back.”
7:56 In Chapter 10 there’s an instance of 惹かれる, one of the words I mentioned in my Neojaponisme review of the book. This isn’t the first instance, but this is the first one I’ve remembered to check against the translation. The Japanese is 『空気さなぎ』という作品に強く心を惹かれているからです。 In English, “And my only reason [for agreeing to revise Fuka-Eri’s writing] is that I’m so strongly drawn to Air Chrysalis.”
8:47 I finished Chapter 10, which was the hugely long back story of Sakigake and Akebono, two leftist radical groups. I think I’m going to do something perhaps ill-advised. I’m going to jump forward to Book 3. Reading all weekend would be the equivalent of academic suicide for me right now, so I’m just going to read today, I think, and I want to be able to check out Phillip Gabriel’s translation as well. Let’s see how this goes. I may backtrack later.
9:07 Book 3, Chapter 1 is the first point with Ushikawa as the point of view. I didn’t really notice anything major about the translation. It all reads really smoothly, and as is apparent from this great interview in The Atlantic with Phillip Gabriel, a lot of work went into making sure the two sections fit well together.
On a side note, it’s refreshing to note that even professors of Japanese literature who translate famous novels still have to write the pronunciation of words in the margins. The interview has a scan of one of the pages of Book 3, and Gabriel’s notes can be seen. He’s written “dasei – inertia, momentum” above the character 惰性的. Then it looks like he writes some notes about possible translations, notably “force of habit,” which plays on the idea of inertia.
Ha. I just opened up my copy of Book 3 to page 321 and I have だせい inertia written in the margin. The sentence comes from Chapter 16, and it reads しかしそこには天吾の姿も、深田絵里子の姿もなかった。背を丸めた人々が、新しい一日の中に惰性的に足を踏み出して行く光景が見えるだけだ。 Let’s see what Gabriel did with the translation. I just found it on page 770 after the space break. Ushikawa is in an apartment building watching people enter and exit: “Tengo and Fuka-Eri, though, were not among them. Instead it was more hunched-over people, carried by force of habit into the new day.” Very cool.
10:49 Finished through Chapter 3 of Book 3. Fast forwarding has messed with my brain a little bit. I had to flip through some other sections of the book to reacquaint myself with it, and in doing so I made the terrible discovery that the マザ/ドウタ nonsense has been translated as maza and dohta…which I guess makes sense? Blah. I thought it was mother and daughter, just rendered into katakana as receiver/perceiver were. Who knows. I won’t get the full sense of this until I go back and finish reading Books 1 and 2, but suffice it to say any attempt to explain/building a universe around these comes way too late.
And in the beginning of Book 3, nothing is happening. Still looking for translation bits to point out, but first, a nap.
12:17 In Book 3 Chapter 4 Ushikawa starts investigating the dowager’s house, and a real estate agent compares it to kakekomidera. Gabriel adds a bit of explanation here: “I don’t know much about it now, but it seems to be used for battered women, kind of like those kakekomidera, temples in the old days that sheltered wives running away from abusive husbands.” The bolded section was added.
On a side note, I think this is the first place in the novel where we get the dowager’s name – Ogata. This is page 631, by the way.
12:49 Frustrating Chapter 4 – all that happens is Ushikawa researches the dowager and learns a bunch of information the reader already knows: the dowager’s daughter probably committed suicide because she was being abused, the dowager then turned her apartment into a safe house for abuse victims, and she hired Aomame to do something (kill people). Pace = so slow. We have to watch all the gears turn in Ushikawa’s head before we can move on.
13:35 Chapter 5 – the appearance of the angry NHK collection man. I think we’re supposed to assume that this is the spirit of Tengo’s father reaching out from his comatose state to try and ruin everything in Tengo’s life. Thanks, dad. I’m curious to see how well Murakami makes the connection, but my initial thoughts from the Japanese version were that it wasn’t done well. In Book 1 Chapter 9, too, there’s a kind of red herring about an NHK collection man who stabs someone with a knife while on the job – Aomame discovers this while researching at the ward library. But it happens in 1981, and the collection man is far younger than Tengo’s father, so it’s difficult to tell what the purpose of the incident is. Murakami does make it clear that the crazed NHK man is something new to the 1Q84 world – it hadn’t happened in plain old 1984.
14:24 Chapter 6 – Tengo still reading to his father. There’s a long passage excerpted from Out of Africa, which seems to be just a throwaway reference. Tengo goes out for yakiniku with the nurses. For whatever reason, I felt like this scene happened earlier in the novel. Not sure why. Macbeth also gets a shout out at the end of this chapter, the three nurses compared to the ominous witches.
Ugg. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of bad fiction… I’m taking a break to check out the New Orleans Book Fair. I’ll be back in a couple of hours to knock out another chapter or two and then wrap up everything so I can get some work done this evening and tomorrow.
16:56 Reading again. At the bookfair I ran into a classmate who is also reading 1Q84, and he seemed a little disappointed with the book so far. He’s read Book 1. We laughed at the taxi driver from Chapter 1. Aghh. I’m so depressed. Opening an Urquell.
17:37 Book 3 Chapter 7 is another research chapter. Ushikawa is researching Aomame, and the payoff is that he realizes they went to the same elementary school. This will not end well for Ushikawa, trust me. I really feel like out of all of Murakami’s characters, Ushikawa really got the short end of the stick. He’s a miserable bastard from start to his unpleasant finish.
19:13 Woops. Fell asleep on the couch. Just ate dinner and am about to finish Chapter 8 and call it a weekend. We’re with Aomame in her safe house apartment and the NHK man is back. After knocking for a while and reading her thoughts, Aomame does this: “Aomame grimaced.” This is slightly different from the “scowl” that Rubin used at times, but I wasn’t paying complete attention. The Japanese is: 青豆は思わず大きく顔をしかめる。
This is almost identical to the phrasing Murakami used earlier in the novel, and Gabriel seems to have said “Screw you, Murakami, we’re going simple in English.” A closer translation might be the “scowled hugely” as Rubin termed it at one point and possibly even “without thinking” or “unconsciously” on the front of that. “Aomame unconsciously scowled hugely.”
19:19 Again note the “present” tense of the verb “grimace” above. Because the action isn’t “finished” there is no use of the perfective tense. I think this is right…
19:34 Done with Book 3 Chapter 9. Aomame drops the bomb on Tamaru that she wants a pregnancy test. This is another example of Murakami’s reliance on surprise. Despite the fact that the chapter is in her POV, we get no thoughts about the fact that she might be pregnant until she asks him for the test. The dreams earlier in the chapter might constitute some foreshadowing, but not much.
This concludes the liveblog!
Although my criticisms of the novel may seem jovial in nature, this has not been a pleasant process for me. I really did have big expectations for this book, and I was disappointed by the original two years ago. The translation has only thrown the weaknesses into starker contrast for me. Much of the novel feels like an unedited first draft: it’s rife with repetition, there is no logic (not that Murakami ever needed it before, but there isn’t even internal logic here), and Murakami relies on overly complicated and concocted devices to drive the plot (which slows the novel down). Murakami has been accused of these in the past, basically ever since Dance Dance Dance. Part of the process of being a Murakami fan is, I believe, coming to terms with his many weaknesses. Well, I can see them now. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think about him in the same light again. I’m going to have to find some of his older short fiction to read so I can forget about 1Q84.
I’m reminded of a line from “The Twins and the Sunken Continent”: “When something is lost, the only certainty we have is not when we lost it, but when we realized we lost it.” I’m not sure when Murakami lost his magic but 1Q84 is the point where I realized he lost it.
I’ll be the first sounding the horn when he puts out something new. I just hope that it’s much shorter and much much stronger.