Haruki Murakami's interpreters discuss the art of building literature anew
SFBG: One challenge in translating East Asian languages to English is that there are certain expressions that could be said more concisely in the former than in the latter. How do you overcome linguistic differences without compromising style?
JR: Brevity is a problem because you're so tempted to explain things the reader might miss. You always have to engage in a judgment to keep the verbiage as tight as it is in the original, and try not to overwhelm your reader with explanatory prose. After all, you're not trying to explain the original, but recreate it so that it works in all the same gut levels.
JPG: I try to preserve the basic rhythm of the prose, alternating between long and short sentences. But the sentence structure itself is so different — verbs are at the end of a sentence in Japanese — and when you move the verb to the front, it's like giving away the punch line.
SFBG: How was your experience translating 1Q84 together?
JR: 1Q84 was so damn long. Sheer stamina was what I needed, above all. I was so grateful when Phil decided to translate the last volume. The editor spent months going through in extreme detail to give it consistency, and there wasn't a huge gap in style because we both kept close to the original.
JPG: Any two translators, like any two writers, are going to have a different style, and it's hard to go beyond that. But the editor did a great job to have the final translation read smoothly.
SFBG: Did you face any challenges when conveying cultural differences in a text?
JR: Murakami actually references a lot of American and European culture, so he's very approachable for someone with a fairly normal American background.
JPG: Stoicism in Japanese culture causes certain climaxes to be very low-key, and I had to underscore scenes for an American audience. We go through the trouble of translating works because we want to learn about the culture, but it turns out that culture is the hardest thing to translate.
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