Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Translator’s Observation

Writers/translators or the relationship between translating and writing is something that really interests me. This semester, I had the opportunity to explore it in my Case Studies essay on ‘hard-boiled fiction’. Even writing this blog post, I’m still thinking, in the same way as a detective about how to write my essay. I still have time – today is the 15th of April, the deadline is the 24th of April and my case is not yet solved.


In April 2013, I came across news of Murakami’s new novel on the internet. The book is called 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年shikisai wo motanai tasaki tsukuru to kare no junrei no toshi [Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage] by Haruki Murakami. His previous novel, 1Q84, which was based on   George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, achieved record sales that rivalled well as his other novel, Norwegian Wood. Since the publisher announced the release of the new novel, Japanese readers have been desperate to read it; needless to say, that includes me. Murakami is one of the most popular writers in Japan. He is also one of the few world-famous Japanese writers – I think it’s generally agreed that he is the best Japanese writers outside Japan.


Murakami is also known as a translator: he translates mainly American literature into Japanese including novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, Tim O'Brien and J. D. Salinger. According to Rubin (2012: 103), Murakami has learnt a lot about writing fiction and fiction itself through the process of translation. As Steiner states, ‘[i]n a very specific way, the translator “re-experiences” the evolution of language itself, the ambivalence of the relationship between language and world, between “languages” and “worlds”’(1998: 246). Presumably, translation has enhanced his writing.


Several years ago, Murakami published his first translation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It can be said that Murakami’s fiction had long been influenced by Chandler, as he is said that he has been a fan since his teens. Indeed, Murakami made use of the word ‘hard-boiled’ style for one of his books Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a fiction constituted by detective pop narrative. Moreover, Murakami described the narrative structure of one of his novels, Wild Sheep Chase as being deeply influenced by Chandler (see Rubin 2012: 81). However, the most important thing Murakami has learnt form Chandler is, I think, a perspective or an; in other word, he sees the world in the same way that Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe sees it, with an objective level gaze. I see evidence of this not only in his fiction but also in his translations.


Thinking about the translation of The Long Goodbye, there are two Japanese versions in Japan: one by Murakami in 2007 and another by Shimizu in 1958. The significant difference between the two translations is their strategies for translating. In Shimizu’s version, I found many parts of the source text are omitted by the translator. On the other hand, in Murakami’s translation he makes his translation much more complete.  (Therefore, Murakami’s translation comes to be longer than Shimizu’s.) Murakami’s strategy is close to a ‘literal translation.’: in other words, Murakami is more faithful to the original text – he serves the original writer (Murakami and Shibata 2000: 20). He tried to disappear listening the Chandler’s original voice and attempting to see the world through his eyes.


To me, Murakami seems a little like Marlowe himself, a detective, a cool observer.



Hiromitsu Koiso translates from English into Japanese. His literary interests include world literature, exophony and translation as a creative form of text making. Contact:

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