Friday, September 9, 2011

1Q84, Murakami, and His English Translations

Greetings again. I've come back from the void that was the summer with some (hopefully) more regular posting.

So the big news in the Japanese literature world, of course, is Haruki Murakami's forthcoming English translation of 1Q84, coming out October 25th. And if you're impatient, there's all sorts of stuff out there to get a little amuse bouche before the 900-page smorgasbord arrives.

A few months ago The Millions had the first paragraph, but that was usurped just a few days ago by Murakami's Facebook page, which now has the entire first chapter for you to read (the only caveat being you have to first "Like" Haruki Murakami's page to gain access). There's also a nice standalone excerpt in the latest New Yorker called "Town of Cats."

If you're interested in reviews, you can see The Literary Saloon's extremely favorable review of the first two books (scroll down), Publisher's Weekly's starred review, The Japan Time's reviews for parts 1 and 2 and then 3, and even fellow bloggers How to Japonese's less than favorable reaction and subsequent review at Neojaponisme and Nihon Distraction's (the lucky sun of a gun who got an advanced review copy) take on book 1.

I haven't actually read any of these, because for some reason I've started feeling very spoiler-averse to the point where I don't really want to know any more about the plot than the little I already do. The only thing I know is pretty much everyone (with the lone, possibly lonely, exception of Daniel from How To Japonese) loves it.

There's also a book trailer, but it's pretty lame.

The English translation has been long-coming. The Germans for example have had a translation out for like a year now, and the French are beating us by a month or so. If you didn't know, the English translation is being done by two people: Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. Jay Rubin started on books 1 and 2 before it was clear that there was going to be a book 3 coming out, where they hired Gabriel to speed up the process and to facilitate a one gigantic volume release. (I speculated about the implications about this a long time ago at Three Percent. Almost two years ago actually: notice how they initially planned on publishing the translations in two separate volumes).

This is all a relatively long and pointless segue leading to something I found regarding Murakami and his thoughts on his English translations. In「そうだ、村上さんに聞いてみよう」("Hey Yeah, Let's Ask Murakami!"), the collection of Q&As Murakami hosted on his website where you could ask such pressing questions as "Do you like Nicolas Cage?", one reader asks about Murakami's feelings towards his English translations. Keep in mind that this is from 1997. Translation follows:

Pressing Question #46
Thoughts on Your English Translated Works?
At 12:46 AM 1997.08.09

I live in New York. Since I've been in Japan I've read almost all of your works. After I came here I tried reading them in English. Have you ever read your novels in English translation and thought anything like, "Hmm, that's not quite right"? There's a lot of problems with my English comprehension skills, so I feel pretty lucky I can read your novels in Japanese. (TV Director, 33 years old).

Hello. For me, translation is all-around approximation. And filling that ditch of approximation is a matter of love of devotion. If you have love and devotion, you can overcome just about everything. What I mean by this is that I trust my translators, and I think that's the most important thing. At least to a certain degree, of course.

As a rule, I don't reread what I've written, so even when I flip through the pages of the English translation, I completely forget what even the original was, so I skim through it going, "Hahaha, isn't that interesting?" I think that's better for my health. 

From そうだ、村上さんに聞いてみよう」と世間の人々が村上春樹にとりあえずぶっつける282の大疑問に果たして村上さんはちゃんと答えられるのか?, Asahi, 2000, p. 43.


  1. It's great to see you posting again, reading this reminded me that I've got a copy of A Wild Haruki Chase that was published by Stone Bridge Press a while back, I was wondering if you've read any other critical books on Murakami?, I've been contemplating reading Michael Seats and Rebecca Suter's books on Murakami, but I'm not sure which one to go for. I've not started on Book 2 yet, I thought I'd leave it until the end of the month and then it won't feel too much of a wait until Book 3..

  2. I've read some of Suter's book and I liked it, but really only a small portion (for a paper). I looked at Seats' once but it was too dense for me to read for fun. Jay Rubin's "H.M. and the Music of Words" is pretty informative but not a lot of critical analysis.

    I'm not sure if you're reading it for fun or for academia, but here are some articles I enjoyed or found very informative:

    Yamada, Marc. "Exposing the Private Origins of Public Stories: Narrative Perspective and the Appropriation of Selfhood in Murakami Haruki's Post-Aum Metafiction." Japanese Language and Literature 43 (2009): 1-26. Print.

    Fisch, Michael. "In Search of the Real: Technology, Shock and Language in Murakami Haruki's Sputnik Sweetheart." Japan Forum 16.3 (2004): 361-83. Print.

    I can't remember if they're available through JSTOR or not. I might have special ordered them through the University library. Also, if you have the means, I read this dissertation and thought it was awesome: fun to read and very thought-provoking analysis:

    Koizumi, Kaori. "The Unknown Core of Existence: Representations of the Self in the Novels of Haruki Murakami." Diss. University of Essex, 2003. Print.

    Happy reading!

  3. Many thanks for this list, recently came across a video uploaded on you tube Haruki Murakami: Japanese Literature on the Global Stage, well worth having a view if you've not seen it already!.

  4. The title 1Q84 refers to George Orwell's 1984. "9" in Japanese is pronounced "kyu" like "Q" in English, thus both 1984 and 1Q84 are phonetically the same.
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