Introducing a new series called And Now A Word From... in which we will be posting quotes from various people regarding books, art, etc.
Jay Rubin, in conversation with The New Yorker, discusses his translations of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami:
It's a very, very subjective process and I know I'm thought of someone who sticks very close to the original. Murakami himself has said that, but I don't think it's anything like his writing when you get right down to it - it's an interesting imitation maybe. On the other hand he's got how many translators - three active translators - and there's a certain something that comes through in all of us. And we all have very different styles, but he still has a recognizable voice.I was very curious about the translation of 1Q84 since Jay Rubin translated the first two books and Philip Gabriel translated the third. I was wondering if there would be a recognizable shift in tone or feeling in the third book, but I honestly can't find any difference I can put my finger on. The nerd part of me would love to compare how Rubin and Gabriel would have translated a short chapter, but that's unlikely to happen.
But it's interesting to think about the writer's voice surfacing though various translators. Murakami and Bolaño are the only two writers I've read in translation and each of them has a unique voice. I haven't read Tolstoy or any other famous non-English writers (or, at least I can't think of any or I'm just being stupid...), but I imagine that if the translator is any good then the real substance of the writing will shine through.
I'm still struck by Rubin's statement that the English translation of Murakami's work is just a "interesting imitation" of the original. It's almost enough to make me run out and try to learn Japanese. And also Spanish, so I can read Bolaño in its original form.
I wish the interviewer (Blake Eskin) had asked Rubin about the section of 1Q84 in which one of the characters re-writes a novella written by a 17 year-old girl and how Murakami's description of the re-write mirrors the translation process. Interviews with translators always seem to be pretty light, but I think there's a really interesting opportunity to dig into the text since the translator has such an intimate relationship with every word on the page.