I always enjoy reading foreign literature – I’m interested in reading about foreign places with a foreign way of looking at things. One consideration for translated literature is the question of what happens to the original quality or authorial intention when the words are translated. In many cases, there aren’t equivalent words for feelings or descriptions.
When it comes to Haruki Murakami, the stakes are even higher. Murakami relies on an enormous amount of sensational descriptions. And the meaning of his works is often open or ambiguous. My recent review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is just one example of the difficultly of interpreting his works. The impact of translation on texts like this a major talking point among literary critics. Changing one word meaning slightly can alter how the reader interprets a text or can alter the original intention of the author in the text.
A recent article on The New Yorker further discusses how translation affects the final impact of a novel. The challenge of preserving meaning across languages is a topic that I give a lot of consideration. The New Yorker article includes discussion with some of Murakami’s translators to get their perspective on the translation:
“When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least ninety-five per cent of the time,” Jay Rubin, one of Murakami’s longtime translators. “Murakami wrote the names and locations, but the English words are mine.”
The challenge of preserving meaning across languages will continue to be an ongoing conversation. I’ve read works before where I could tell that there were things missing in the translation that inhibited my ability to follow the plot or understand any meaning in the text. With Murakami, it’s a little more difficult to discern the differences due to his style of writing and the high quality work of the translators dedicated to his texts.
What books have you read where you noticed something peculiar that might have been attributed to the translation? Are there books that you recommend to people to check out or stay away from because of the translation?