Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 5:30 PM
The first book of 1Q84, Haruki Murakami's new novel (in two books), was released in the mainland in at the end of May, and the second will follow next week. Sina's bestseller book lists said 1Q84 "sold 1.2 million copies in China and 'almost took up the entire month'" for the month of May. As with What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (当我谈跑步时我谈些什么), there was controversy when the novel was translated by Shi Xiaowei (施小炜) rather than Lin Shaohua (林少华), Murakami's mainland China translator for over 20 years.
The reasoning behind this was a change of publishing house, but it also sparked off a debate on the quality of Lin Shaohua's translations and whether he was monopolizing Murakami's writing estate in China.* The general impression was that Lin's classics influenced translations, laden with idioms (成语), didn't match Murakami's jazzy and colloquial Japanese style. Shi Xiaowei was picked to be Murakami's new translator from a pool of applicants.
In a new magazine launched by the same company as The Beijing News (新京报), Famous (名汇), a feature article reviewed Murakami's influences and reiterated again his bourgeois subject material and his unique style. They also asked Lin Shaohua and Murakami's Taiwan translator, Lai Ming-chu (赖明珠), who translates into traditional Chinese, their view on getting close to Murakami's original flair for writing a style that was 'Japanese yet also not Japanese.'
The "beautification" of the work in translation does not existby Lin Shaohua
According to what usually happens, whenever a new book of Murakami's is released in Japan, I would receive the text, take up my pen and begin to translate it, and when the rights have been settled over in Japan, I would basically be finished on this side. But after the storm over Running*, I didn't want to do this anymore. I understood that I could not control some things, so slowly I've started to not only translate other people's work, but I am also trying to write what would belong to myself as being limited by other people is a source of pain.
What I must "self-praise" is that my translations are, to some degree, a real expression of Murakami's literary style, specifically there are three points:
First we need to re-realize the simplicity, rhythm and humor of the original style. As for simplicity, compared to Japanese or English, Chinese has a natural advantage, translating it into Chinese means that at least one third of the length is cut. As for the rhythm, Murakami says that he gets his rhythm from music, and especially jazz, but I don't understand jazz, so where does the rhythm of my translations come from? Mostly it comes from the rhythm of classical Chinese. As for humor, I think that any reader will get a sense of this through reading the Chinese translation.
Secondly, I am careful in transferring the 'heterogeneous nature' of the original style. Haruki's style has an American flavor, even an unique style 'with several inventions,' which basically means that it's Japanese that doesn't look like Japanese, but Japanese with overtones of English in translation. What I do is simple, since Murakami's writing doesn't look like traditional Japanese, then my translation shouldn't look like literary work that has already been translated from the Japanese, and I try my best to dissipate the accent of normal Japanese translations, and take care to conserve the original text's freshness and appealing strangeness, as well as the beauty of its heterogeneity. At the same time, though, I try as hard as I can to transform it into natural and exquisite Chinese.
Thirdly, I think that the original form also has these characteristics: meaningful, introverted and reserved, this is also something that I am careful in transferring to the translation.
As for the issue of the "beautification." Whether domestically or internationally, criticism of clumsy translations usually centers on this, and you could say it is "target of public criticism." I think that there are at least two issues related to this in this:
Also, if I step back and say, even if it is "beautification," what would be wrong with it? I don't need to say that the most ideal is to equalize, to translate with real value. But whether in theory or in practice, a complete equal value and equal translation doesn't exist. Translation has always been a process of limitless nearing to the original style, a slight divergence from this means that it touches on beautification or watering down, or even uglifying, this is committed by almost everything. If it's like so, then making it better, beautifying it, is better than watering down, or the uglification of it, isn't it?
Simple and trying hard not to use idiomsby Lai Ming-chu
Early on, someone said that even if you read just one sentence, you would know that it was Haruki Murakami's writing. Perhaps some think that this is an exaggeration, but if you observe carefully, the really isn’t without its reasons. From when Haruki Murakami wrote his first book, he’d already decided that he was going to use a style that was different to anyone else’s. Even if it was just one character, or just one number. Just from the title 1Q84 it is obvious that Haruki Murakami is a naughty writer who likes to play word games. He likes putting heterogeneous things together; here it’s numbers and English letters.
Is Haruki Murakami’s writing style fluid? Of course, where it should be fluid it’s very fluid. However, sounding natural and unforced is not his only goal. Due to the fact that Haruki really likes music, he would intentionally inject a musicality and sense of rhythm into his writing. He often mentions the names of tunes in his novels, becoming background music for the novels. His novels have the relative urgency, allegro and adagio, the feeling of an ensemble or a solo, singing in chorus or singing alone or singing in rounds, sometimes there would even be a rest, which is a quiet pause, to the extent of silence, and then intentionally building a section where there is no fluidity for special effect.
When I am translating I rather care about being loyal to the original. Although I have been rewarded by the support of most readers, some people also said it doesn’t look like Chinese, or it's too wordy. I often remind myself it needs to be more simplified. When I translate his novels I try hard not to use idioms, hoping to retain his usage, so that Murakami’s characteristics are still there when you’re reading the Chinese.
I am very impressed that Mr. Lin Shaohua’s achievements in Chinese are better than mine, but I also feel that if the translator’s own writing style is overtly obvious, this could take away the style of the writer. Due to the similar lifestyles, readers on the mainland should be more used to Mr. Lin’s translation. I’ve met Mr. Lin in Hong Kong and in Tokyo, and because we’re both translators of Haruki Murakami, we hit it off at once. I have also had the pleasure of reading his translation, and I have a deep impression of the many four-character idioms that he used. When we were chatting, I found that he is prone to be articulate and eloquent, he likes Tang Dynasty poems, so it feels most natural to him to use that kind of language to translate.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
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.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.