Thursday, June 14, 2007

Murakami's Translator on Translation

Philip Gabriel, one of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's principal translators, discussed his craft in an e-mail roundtable, "Translating Murakami," with fellow Murakami translator Jay Rubin and Gary Fisketjon, Murakami's American editor at Knopf. The following is an excerpt from the opening e-mail in the roundtable:
One moment that stood out to me most recently was when I was working on Sputnik Sweetheart: In chapter five there was a short quote from Pushkin's poem"Eugene Onegin." In cases like this -- quotes in Japanese from other languages -- of course you need to find the original language, and with languages other than English, I try to locate a reputable, existing translation. I hadn't realized "Eugene Onegin" was a book-length poem, and visualized myself sitting there for hours trying to locate these lines in the English version. Fortunately, the lines came early in the poem. What was interesting was that I located four different versions of the poem, from which I copied out these translations of the lines:

(1) He had no itch to dig for glories/ Deep in the dust that time has laid.
(2) He lacked the slightest predilection/ for raking up historic dust.
(3) He lacked the yen to go out poking/ Into the dusty lives of yore--
(4) He had no urge to rummage/ in the chronological dust.

I copied all these down in my notebook, and ended up choosing (final answer?) number one to include in the translation of Sputnik Sweetheart. Seeing all four versions side by side was a mini-revelation to me. When I got home I pinned these all to my bulletin board -- where they still remain -- as a reminder of a simple truth, namely that there are so many possible trandslations of even one line. So very much depends on the voice you hear in your head as you read a piece of fiction. That's the voice you're trying most to reproduce when translating Murakami, and I guess that's the answer: finding, and staying true to, the voice you hear as you read the original.

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