Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Commendatore in Norwegian, Turkish Birthday Girl, and Kat Menshik

I hope the Norwegian translators will forgive me that this announcement comes a few months late.  Killing Commendatore came out in Norwegian from Pax this spring. The book was translated by Ika Kaminka and Yngve Johan Larsen. It was not their first collaborative translation. I have to say that I am fascinated by the idea of working on a translation together with somebody else. It seems that such collaboration is in fact fairly common and may take different forms. I have only engaged in it once and found it quite challenging.  In 2002 or 2003 I was asked to translate the second part of Norwegian Wood into Polish. The first half had been done by Dorota Marczewska. I read her half, and then proceeded to work on the second half, but as I was translating, I was very aware that the text I was producing was coming out quite differently. After I finished, I was asked to make sure that the two parts fit. Dorota was not available to help for personal reasons, so I ended up having to make many decisions I wasn't sure she would approve of. As a result of this experience, I am very impressed by translators who seem to pull it off seemingly effortlessly. I believe that Ika and Ingve worked by translating alternate chapters and later making sure that the whole reads smoothly.  

Another new translation I wanted to mention is the Turkish translation by Ali Volkan Erdemir of the short story Birthday Girl. The book uses illustrations by Kat Menshik, who has also illustrated the German versions of The Strange Library (I wrote about it on this blog here), Sleep, and The Bakery Attack. Her illustrations were later used in several language versions.,2293

Also, in case of Birthday Girl Menshik's illustrations were used in many language versions. Here are four of the covers: German, French, Spanish, and Korean


Ali Volkan Erdemir interviewed Menshik in January 2019. You can read the whole interview here.
If we can trust Google Translate, Menshik talked about her use of color among other things.  She said she picks two basic colors for each story.  Midnight blue and silver seemed like "the most sensible choice" for Sleep, she chose dark green and brown (or "bronze"?) for The Bakery Attack. For The Birthday Girl she chose three: red, pink and orange.


Menshik did not talk about it in the interview, but it seems that she picked black and off-white as the themes for the The Strange Library, with occasional brown and red. 


As I wrote 4 years ago in a blog post about Menschik's illustrations of that last book, illustrations - together with the cover become an important element of the translation. In most cases the translator does not get to express an opinion about the cover or illustrations in the book, and it is easy to imagine that his or her visualization of the story would differ greatly from the cover designer's or illustrator's. And possibly also of the author's. Menschik presumably works on her illustrations inspired by the German translation. Is there some quality in the German translation that inspire certain kinds of illustrations? Do the illustrations then match other language versions?

The situation becomes even more complicated if the original story was illustrated, as was the case with the original of The Strange Library. Here is a picture from the original Japanese publication:

We know from interviews though, that Murakami likes Menschik's illustrations. In fact, all stories illustrated by her were later republished in Japanese using her images. Presumably, Murakami must have approved the original illustrations by Maki Sasaki, which suggests that the author approves of a variety of visual responses to his stories. In case of The Bakery Attack the title was slightly altered to say Pan'ya o osou ["To Attack a Bakery" or "Attacking a Bakery"], and with The Strange Library, the title used was the title of the original 1982 story, Toshokan kitan ["Strange Tales of a Library], rather than the 2005 Fushigi na toshiokan ["The Strange Library]. It was advertised in Japan as an "art book with a new feel."

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Ursula Gräfe Wins the Noma Award for Translation

Ursula Grāfe, the German translator of Murakami, is a very hard-working person who has also translated a number of other Japanese authors. This year she won the 22nd Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature, awarded by the publisher Kodansha. The other winner is Nora Bierich. The award ceremony will take place in Frankfurt in October. Congratulations to Ursula!

picture from the interview quoted later
Ursula was awarded the prize for her many contributions over the years, including the translations of Murakami's 2009-2010 novel 1Q84 and Keigo Higashino's 2005 The Devotion of Suspect X (Yōgisha X no kenshin). Nora Bierich also won for her many years of contributions, including Oe Kenzaburo's Changeling. Ursula previously won the Japan Foundation Prize for her translation of Yoko Ogawa (2004).

The Japanisches Kulturinstitut (The Japan Foundation) Facebook page states that Ursula has translated 48 works, including fifteen with Kimiko Nakayama-Ziegler.

I could ask Ursula for a list of authors she has translated, but since she is a modest person, I am going to rely on Wikipedia,, etc., and hope that if I get something wrong, she will point it out (names are listed in Japanese order, with surnames first):

Murakami Haruki, Murakami Ryū, Kawakami Hiromi, Ogawa Yoko, Oe Kenzaburo, Higashino Keigo, Tsuji Hitonari, Yamada Taichi, Hiraide Takashi, Inoue Yasushi, Ohmura Tomoko, Sukegawa Durian, and Murata Sayaka, among others.

Additionally, Ursula has translated a book by Gandhi and the letters of Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra (the last two from English, of course). 

Here are some of the beautiful covers of Ursula's translations, with Haruki Murakami's books featured in the first two rows. If the number 48 is accurate, the covers below represent just one third of Ursula's translatorial production!





Here is an interview with Ursula on, which appeared after the publication of the German translation of Killing Commendatore. Ursula explains what she likes about Murakami's writing, offers her impressions of meeting Murakami, and describes how she works, by first producing a draft "almost intuitively . . . spontaneously, like the wind" and then polishing it - a task that she says "takes forever." 

Ursula is the fifth Haruki Murakami translator to win the award, and the fourth to win it for a translation of Murakami. The first, in 1991, was Patrick de Voss for his French translation of A Wild Sheep Chase; followed by Jay Rubin (2003) for the English translation of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Antonietta Pastore (2017) for the Italian translation of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Giorgio Amitrano, another of the Italian Murakami translators, also won the Noma Award in 2001, but for his translation of Miyazawa Kenji.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Birds in Killing Commendatore -- Translator's Challenge

One night, the main character in Killing Commendatore hears some rustling in the attic.  The following day, having decided to investigate, he climbs into the attic and finds a bird there.  The man is initially taken aback, but then realizes that he likes the idea of sharing the house with this quiet creature, because it makes him feel less lonely. He is a painter and works at home.

The bird is described by Murakami as a mimizuku ミミズク. We are told that it is a grey bird that looks like a cat with wings.

As a translator, one needs to find out exactly what kind of bird a mimizuku is. Different dictionaries tend to translate the name of this bird into English as "horned owl." But Japanese Wikipedia lists 17 different kinds of birds that qualify as mimizuku and offers their Latin names, many of which include the words Bubo and Otus, both owls.  So is mimizuku a horned owl, or not?  And if not, what is it?

An added difficulty in deciding what kind of owl will live in the attic in the translated version is that in Polish (as in many other European languages), nouns have gender. I felt that, ideally, the name I would use for the bird would be a masculine noun, so that the painter and the horned owl would be like "two guys" living together, rather than a man sharing a house with a "female" companion.  I am not saying, of course, that the gender of a noun is the same as the gender of the species it represents, only that I wanted to use a masculine noun in order to create a sense of male camaraderie. I started an ornithological search and came up with three types of horned owls. All were rather brown than gray, but you can't have everything...

This was the first one. Syczek (Otus scops) had the necessary ears and was a masculine noun, but there were two problems with it: it doesn't live in East Asia and it seemed a little too small (19-22 cm or about 7 in) to cause the kind of awe the protagonist felt when he saw the bird.   


The second bird, sowa uszata (Asio otus), seemed to be the right size (35-37 cm or about 14 in) -- big enough to impress, but small enough to be able to get through a hole in the net covering a ventilation hole. But the problem -- from my point of view -- was that sowa is a feminine noun.

The third bird was puchacz (Bubo bubo). I liked this one the best, because of the wonderful onomatopoeic quality of the word that imitates the bird's call (it is pronounced poo-hutch) and the fact that it was a masculine noun. This particular variety does not live in Japan, but a similar one, Bubo blakistoni (or Ketupa blakistoni) does (picture on the right). Alas, at 60-78 cm (24-31in) and 7-8 pounds in weight, the bird seemed too big to get through a small ventilation hole.

I tried to plead my case with the editor, but she would not budge. In the end, I had to go with the middle one, and change my image of two male housemates into a man sharing a house with a feminine bird. Oh, well.

Another important bird that appears in the novel is a little plastic penguin, which one of the characters attaches to her cell phone and treats as a good luck charm. I wondered what it might have looked like, and Murakami fans did not let me down. There was quite an array of plastic penguins online: key rights, flash drives. I have found some on this blog:


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Dreaming Murakami Available Online for 48 Hours

Dreaming Murakami, a 2017 documentary about Mette Holm, Murakami's Danish translator written and directed by Nitesh Anjaan, can be watched online until Monday, 1PM EST (or 7PM in most of Europe). On the IDFA website (International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam), where the film premiered in 2017, it is referred to as "lovingly crafted glimpse into Holm's life."

It is a rare opportunity to observe a translator (and a Murakami translator to boot) at work and almost get inside her head. The film has a great atmosphere, shows modern Japan, and features one of Murakami characters, a giant frog from Murakami's 1998 story "Kaeru kun, Tōkyō o sukuu" ("Super Frog Saves Tokyo," English translation by Jay Rubin, 2002).

The movie makes one wish one knew Danish to be able to read Mette's translations!

(both pictures from the movie's website: 

Nitesh and Mette at the film's premiere at IDFA in Amsterdam (

You can watch the film on here.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Finnish and Turkish Translations of Killing Commendatore Released

Two more new translations of Killing Commendatore appeared in November: the Finnish and Turkish versions.

The translator of the Turkish version is Ali Volkan Erdemir, and the publisher Doğan Kitap. The publisher page lists the number of pages as 848, so that clearly is a two-volume edition, as is the case with the English language version.

The Finnish translation, by Juha Mylläri, was published by Tammi. One of the online reviews said that the book is 800 pages long (thank you, Google Translate!), which means that the book must also include both volumes.

The second volume of my Polish translation came out last month from Muza. Here is the cover:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Brazilian, Portuguese, and Swedish Translations of Killing Commendatore


Rita Kohl's Brazilian Portuguese translation of Killing Commendatore is coming out on November 23 from Alfaguara. Also in November, a Portuguese translation through English by Ana Lourenço and Maria João Lourenço will be released by Casa Das Letras. It seems that the Brazilian title refers to the "assassination" of the Commendatore, while the Portuguese one to his "death." It also appears that the Portuguese cover is using the mainland Chinese design (shown on the right).


Above are the covers of the Swedish translation from Norstedts by Vibeke Emond. The first volume came out on October 17, and the second one will be appearing in February 2019. It seems that all three cover designers have opted for the red, white and black color scheme.

It is very exciting that so many European translations are coming out more or less at the same time as the English translation. Things have really changed starting with 1Q84, which was the first Murakami novel to came out in a number of European languages before the English translation appeared.