Posted by Joel Martinsen on Monday, July 9, 2007 at 7:20 PM
Last week's Southern Media Weekly (Life edition) interviewed Lin Shaohua, known for his translations of Haruki Murakami's works.
Lin begins the interview by addressing the common impression among Chinese readers that Murakami's works are nothing more than soft, bourgeois sentiment, an misconception he hopes to correct. Arguing that Murakami's later works are more involved with society, he segues into a discussion of Sino-Japanese relations.
Lin Shaohua: Haruki Murakami as WarriorInterview by Luo Xiaoyan / SMW
Norwegian Wood has been popular in China for eighteen years, and because of this, Japanese author Haruki Murakami is known in all households. Translator Lin Shaohua is also well-known in China to Murakami fans.
On 29 June, Lin Shaohua came to Guangzhou expressly to take part in a gathering for readers of Norwegian Wood. Our interview took place at a restaurant table, but the mess of glasses and plates had no effect on the conversation that covered bourgeois sentiment and high literature. Lin Shaohua wore a smile the entire time, the modest and polite kind. He carefully answered every question, and when he got excited he spoke with his body. His widened eyes were limpid pools.
Lin Shaohua, who has translated 32 of Murakami's works, is dedicating himself to changing Chinese readers' traditional view of Murakami's books as pink "bourgeois sentiment." "Deep reading" is his new emphasis. He has half-finished a book of criticism on Murakami, to be sent to press before long. Lin Shaohua hopes to be able to use his efforts to bring Chinese readers to an understanding of Murakami's strong, warrior side.
Southern Metropolis Weekly: You've come to Guangzhou this time to give two talks. One of them is about Haruki Murakami. What does it concern?
SMW: So does this mean that "bourgeois" is a misreading of Murakami?
SMW: What, specifically, is the concept of this stiffness? How is it experienced?
Murakami once spoke a sentence in English: Violence, the key to Japan. He is unique among contemporary writers to dare to put it this way; even Kenzaburo Ōe never expressed it so clearly. This requires courage and a conscience.
SMW: Chinese people in Murakami's works are always positive characters. What sort of judgment do you think Murakami actually has of Chinese people?
I feel that perhaps this is Murakami's expression of a sense of penitence, and perhaps it is one of the things that spurs him to look directly at the violence and depravity of the Japanese people during that period of history. Previously, he "did not get involved" in social problems; with 1994's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, he began transitioning to "getting involved." From abandoning responsibility to accepting responsibility, from focusing on the soul of the individual to being concerned about the whole of society. He believes that modern Japan is sick, and he will make every effort to uncover how Japan fell sick and where the root of the sickness lies.
SWM: So do you believe that this transition demonstrates that Murakami's novels are more weighty? Chinese readers have always defined Murakami as a bourgeois novelist, and perhaps this is related to the relative "lightness" of his early works. These later works have not yet been completely digested by Chinese readers.
SMW: But from a literary perspective, Norwegian Wood should not be the equal of his later works.
SMW: You met with Murakami in 2003. What impression did he leave you with?
I felt that he was very similar to the protagonist of Norwegian Wood, a little taciturn. If you don't ask him questions, he won't take the initiative to speak. When you've asked, he'll speak with assurance, clearly and methodically, his voice calm. He does not look at people when he speaks; he'll look at the table, as if he is looking at his own train of thought. His manner of speech and his vocabulary are basically identical to that of his protagonist.
SMW: This attitude is most likely lacking among Chinese authors.
SMW: The relationship between China and Japan is particularly sensitive. Nationalist feelings run high on both sides. You lived a few years in Japan - are there many misunderstandings between China and Japan?
SMW: Is this type of misunderstanding related to the fact that there is an insufficient degree of cultural interchange and communication? For example, before 1949, there were many great masters in China who had returned from studying abroad in Japan - the Zhou brothers, for instance, and Yu Dafu and Guo Moruo. At the time, Japan perhaps had many authors, such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Junichirô Tanizaki who had traveled in China. Are exchanges today not up to the level of the Republican period?
SMW: Does Japanese culture lack true depth of self-reflection? Under such circumstances, isn't it even more commendable that Murakami's novels are concerned with the violence of the Japanese nation?
SMW: So when Murakami writes about these things, what is the reaction from Japanese readers and the literary world?
SMW: What is your view of the nationalist sentiments toward Japan that are current in China?
SMW: Can you recommend some domestic scholars and books that present a relatively objective introduction to conditions in Japan?
For further reading, blogger Bimuyu has a critique of Lin Shaohua's translation of Kafka on the Shore.
And this week's New York Times has an essay, "Jazz Messenger" by Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin) in which he talks about his writing style.
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Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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