Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, IQ84, is a big read in Japan, (1000 pgs and 4 million sold) and soon to be big in the USA, or so they say, the most hotly anticipated translation from Japanese into English maybe ever.
The author ran a Jazz club before he began writing, and his work is as even more cosmopolitan than hippest Tokyo Jazz Cat grooving to Armed Forces Radio. Jazz was banned in Japan during the war, so that “forbidden West” insider stuff is always a great way to impress girls, and impress jazz club patrons and millions of Japanese fans. And now non-Japanese fans in English.
So Murakami goes like this: A Japanese guy does a take on the West, which the Western Guy is dreawn to, because he needs less cultural context to get the Asian Guy’s cosmopolitan-ism. So thanks to our translation team, Western Guy is picking up a signal he understands. He just doesn’t understand that it’s not a Japanese signal originally. So then, by the time it goes through the Western Guy’s spin, it’s like pinball, there’s no telling what bumpers will be pushed. A shared language, or more like a pidgin spoken in a cross-cultural whisper game.
Rebecca Sutter, author of “the Japanization of Modernity” writes on the internationalization of Murakami, domestically and internationally, and blames it on the translators: “His American translators, Alfred Birnbaum, Jay Rubin, and Philip Gabriel, tend to “domesticate” foreign elements in Murakami’s fiction: culturally specific elements are often substituted with either generic or American equivalents, so that he does not sound “too Japanese” in translation. This results in his being read by a wider public, which in turn leads to further domestication, in view of the fact that, the wider the public, the less likely it would be that readers will understand or be interested in elements that are too culturally specific.” This quote from “Recentering Murakami Haruki” about 1000 words on berfrois.com, highly recommended to any of you who have actually read this far.
So, if you like that, you’lI love it when NYT Magazine’s Sam Anderson makes the pilgrimage to Murakami’s Tokyo stomping grounds.
“I prepared for my first-ever trip to Japan, this summer, almost entirely by immersing myself in the work of Haruki Murakami. This turned out to be a horrible idea… Under the influence of Murakami, I arrived in Tokyo expecting Barcelona or Paris or Berlin — a cosmopolitan world capital… Japan — real, actual, visitable Japan — turned out to be intensely, inflexibly, unapologetically Japanese.”
Translator error or wishful thinking?
I should translate this post and see what kind of Japanese comments we get on this. Sure. One of these days…