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1Q84 is Big in Literary Translation
November 11, 2011 - By: - In: Translation - Comments Off on 1Q84 is Big in Literary Translation

Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, IQ84, is a big read. One thousand pages of the most hotly anticipated translation into English of any novel this year, maybe of the century so far, maybe ever.

Winner of the Frank Kafka Prize, Murakami’s surreal stories of the bizarre everyday have garnered him millions of global fans in 46 languages, so anticipation for this  latest story, set in a Tokyo dystopia  of ghost writers and contract killers, has been building in the US for two years, while the Japanese edition has gone on to sell over 4 million copies.

English language publishers are anticipating Harry Potter-like lines at American bookstores. “There is a cult element who are ardent about everything he writes, and that club is rapidly spreading,” says his British publisher.  An earlier Murakami title, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” was abridged when translated, since publishers were uncertain that there was a market for long Japanese literary novels. This time around, publishers believe that leaving out any of  Murakami’s prose in an English translation would be intolerable to his devoted fans.

So to get the novel into the hands of fans unabridged while buzz is high, the translation job was split between Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel to work simultaneously on the trilogy.

Splitting a job between translators is the kind of thing we like to avoid at 1-800-Translate even for Instructions for Use, which no one reads anyway. This because two many  translator spoil the soup, at least according to the editor. Murakami’s dream-like prose can’t make the translation process any easier. Ditto on the decision of the US agent to publish all three novels in one big book. So the heat is on. Time flies when the money’s on the table.

During translation, “Lexy Bloom, who edited the novel, played referee when discrepancies arose over word choices. For example, the same car was described as silver in one passage and gray in another, and an outdoor space was called both a balcony and a patio. Occasionally, the translators consulted Mr. Murakami, who lives outside Tokyo and has translated several American writers into Japanese, including J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler.”

Can any Murakami fans who’ve read the 1Q84 report on any differences between books 1 and 2, which were translated by Rubin, and Gabriel’s volume 3? Word choice is one thing, but I’ll bet there are plenty of other differences too.

It must be nerve wracking to have to translate a translator, especially with another translator is lurking in the literary wings. It might be interesting to interview Jay and Philip to get their take on it, but I’ll only pursue it if readers are interested, which means that readers will have to comment to let me know.

I am going to do a second post on the whole translation dance between Japane and English. Kind of a cultural funhouse mirror tour reflecting East, reflecting West. Did I mention it’s a two-way mirror?  Well, it is.

So here’s two tickets for our next post a cultural amusement ride to test the strongest stomachs. Just like the Cyclone at Coney Island.  Sorry, no one under 54 inches in height, please.

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