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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Commendatore Translates Itself!

The Spanish and English translations of Killing Commendatore appeared this week. The Spanish translation, by Fernando Cordobés and Yoko Ogihara, came out from Tusquets Editores. Interestingly enough, the translators' names are not mentioned on the publisher's page.  

The English translation, by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, came out from Knopf in the US and Harvill Secker in the UK today.  A Washington Post review by Charles Finch also didn't find it expedient to give the translators' names. No doubt the book keeps translating itself. 

In his review, Finch says that in this book Murakami "gets the balance right." He writes:
Perhaps this lies in its exhilarating portrayal of how it feels to make art. In long, powerful passages, Murakami describes painting with the intensity of what seems like just-concealed autobiography. ...One could argue that the realism of such scenes saves “Killing Commendatore” from its flights of outlandishness; conversely, it’s possible that only in the calm madness of his magical realism can Murakami truly capture one of his obsessions, the usually ineffable yearning that drives a person to make art. 

Another review, by Johanna Thomas Corr in The Guardianis not as positive. Corr doesn't mention the translators, either... She writes:
The novel spins wide, exploring ideas about art, grief and rebirth with echoes of Alice in WonderlandDon GiovanniBluebeard’s Castle and an 18th-century story by Ueda Akinari about a mummy who comes back to life. The result is an exhausting epic that is at once more absorbing than it deserves to be and less profound than the author intended. 

Later this week or next week, we will get the French translation by Hélène Morita (both volumes) from Belfond (October 11), the Italian translation of volume one by Antonietta Pastore from Einaudi (October 16), and the Polish translation of volume one by Anna Zielinska-Elliott from Muza (October 15). Volume two of the Polish translation will be published in November. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

More Translations, More Covers

A Romanian translation of Killing Commendatore came out from Polirom in Iuliana Oprima's translation. Another translation that will be appearing soon is the Catalan version which is coming out in 60 days from Empuries.

Also, the cover for volume 2 of the Polish translation of Killing Commendatore has been released. The paintbrushes from volume 1 (on the right) have been replaced by knives and swords (or are they swords?).

As far as I know, volume 1 is coming out in October and volume 2 in November.


On another topic -- I missed the publication of two more translations of Shokugyō to shite no shōsetsuka: the Italian translation by Antonietta Pastore from Einaudi (2017) and the Romanian version by Andreea Sion published by Polirom (2016).

The English translation is yet to appear. I have seen different versions of the possible English title including Novelist As a Profession and Novelist As a Vocation.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Murakami’s Newest Novel Deemed “Indecent” in Hong Kong

Murakami’s newest novel, Killing Commendatore, has been classified as "Class 2” indecent material by the Hong Kong Obscene Articles Tribunal. Indecent material is defined as including “violence, depravity and repulsiveness.” The Tribunal’s decision means that Killing Commendatore was removed from the Hong Kong Book Fair last week.  It can now only be sold in bookstores if the cover is wrapped and features a notice warning about its contents, with access restricted to those over the age of 18. The same is true of libraries — no readers under 18 may borrow the book. 

The decision was made public on July 12. Since then articles have appeared in the Japanese press by people puzzled by the decision. Readers have commented that some Murakami books were “much worse” in terms of sex scenes, asking why this one should be restricted. One might also ask why the decision is coming only now, when the book came out in Taiwan in December 2017 and in China in March 2018.

Here are links to articles in Yomiuri and Nikkei. The story was also featured in yesterday’s Guardian and South China Morning Post. 

On the surface of it, this seems pretty outrageous: censoring a book in this day and age? But in fact, this is not the first time this has happened to a Murakami book. In 2011, after “multiple" complaints from parents, Norwegian Wood was taken off a reading list at a high school in New Jersey, as reported by the Guardian in this article. The sex scene between Reiko and her student was described as a “drug-fueled homosexual orgy.” 

Of course this was just one school, as opposed to a whole “Special Administrative Region,” with a population of 7.4 million. One can imagine that the decision will probably greatly help the book’s sales China and elsewhere!

 The picture above comes from the Nikkei article quoted above, apparently showing the Hong Kong censor's warning sticker on the wrapped edition of Commendatore.  Observant followers of this blog will recognize the cover as that of the Taiwan edition of the book, in Lai Ming Chu's translation. I have looked around the internet for pictures showing the sticker on the mainland translation by Lin Shaohua, but so far have not found any.  I suspect this is because the Chinese edition published in Taiwan is more widely available: it seems that most Hong Kong readers prefer Lai's to Lin's  renditions.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

More on Visualizing Translation

I have just finished correcting my translation of Killing Commendatore. As I was working on it, I formed certain images of different characters in my mind. Every reader does that; some seem to think of different celebrities that the characters remind them of, others create their own, original mental images. I have happened across some of those images on the internet. Here are a few examples.

The first is a collage of images from a Twitter post by Takuma Moriwaki, who visualized all the characters in the book as different Japanese celebrities, mostly actors and singers. Starting from the top left and going clockwise: the main character - the nameless painter (Ken'ichi Matsuyama), Wataru Menshiki (Kōichi Iwaki), Marie Akikawa (Nana Komatsu), Masahiko Amada (Gaku Hamada), Komichi (Mana Ashida), Yuzu (Yuriko Yoshitaka), Tomohiko Amada (Yūya Uchida), and Shōko Akikawa (Kumiko Akiyoshi).

Yūya Uchida was mentioned as a model by another blogger (, but for Menshiki (not Tomohiko Amada), which I wrote about in a post from October, 2017.

Finally, here are two images that are meant to represent Marie Akikawa, the mysterious and beautiful thirteen-year-old girl. The first image was posted by kayokotsu here, and the second was posted on Twitter on March 6, 2017 by mk19781106. These two prove once again how very differently the same character can be imagined by different readers!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Polish Cover for Volume One of Killing Commendatore Released

The cover of the Polish translation of Killing Commendatore was just released. It features paint brushes, as the main character is a painter. The literal translation of the title is "The Death of Commendatore" because I couldn't come up with a graceful way to render "koroshi" (killing) in Polish. "Zabicie" (killing) sounded awkward, so that left me with "morderstwo" (murder), which seemed too morbid, or  "zabójstwo" (manslaughter), which sounded like discussing a criminal case. So I decided to go with "death," feeling unhappy about betraying the author,  but unable to help it. 

The book will be published by Muza in October. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

New Murakami Cover by Chip Kidd Released

Knopf has released the cover for the American edition of Killing Commendatore. The designer is Chip Kidd, who has designed other Murakami hard covers.
Here is the link to an article by Lila Shapiro about the cover on  She writes: "[W]hen readers walk into a bookstore and see a freshly printed hardcover copy of one of his U.S. editions, they often find themselves inexplicably drawn in by the gravitational force of an obscure astronomical entity." According to Shapiro, this is "mostly because of Murakami's writing" but also "because of the art of Chip Kidd." The article also quotes Kidd as saying that, "I'm translating what I think he's trying to get across. ... In that sense, it's very presumptuous on my part."

The article describes how this final cover design is in fact a second design. Without having read the book (as the English translation was not yet available), Kidd had first designed a different cover (pictured below).  However, Murakami asked him to rethink the design once the English version was made available to him. This was apparently the first time in their 25-year-long working relationship that he redesigned a cover at Murakami's request.

Below on the left is the image of the first draft, which seems much more disturbing than the final draft, perhaps because it refers more literally to the "killing" in the title. Kidd himself apparently realized that it was "too lurid." So he came up with a new design for the jacket, which apparently features a hole in the middle. Under the jacket the blue of the cover "gives way to dark night." Below on the right you can see the image under the jacket.  For more details on the potential meaning of the design and the designer, you can read the article here.

The novel will be out in English translation by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen on October 9th and can already be preordered on Amazon.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Turkish Translation of Hear the Wind Sing Is Out

The Turkish translation of Murakami's first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, originally scheduled to appear in December, came out in May. The publisher is Doğan Kitap and the translator Ali Volkan Erdemir, who is currently working on the Turkish translation of Killing Commendatore. Google Translate tells me that the title means "listen to the song of the wind." 

Here is a link to a very interesting interview with the translator (you can Google Translate), who kindly mentions this blog:

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Serbian Translation of Killing Commendatore Came out on April 19

The Serbian translation of Volume I of Killing Commendatore appeared on April 19 from Geopoetika. The translator is Nataša Tomić. Nataša tells me that no specific date has been set for the release of Volume II yet.
Here is a link to the publisher's page and a brief description:


Also, the image of the British cover has been released on No sign of the American cover yet. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Fruit Dropped to the Ground by a Squirrel": Myanmar Translator of Killing Commendatore on Translating Through English

The Myanmar translation of Killing Commendatore came out in January. The translator's name is Ye Mya Lwin. Here is the picture of the cover and of the translator holding the book (Zon Pann/The Myanmar Times)

An article in Myanmar Times published on March 23 tells the story of the translator and of the publication of Japanese literature in Japan. Apparently, the following Murakami books are available in Burmese: Sputnik Sweetheart, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, What I talk about, when I talk about running, Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, Pinball, 1973 and South of the Border, West of the Sun.

Ye Mya Lwin has translated over 70 books from Japanese, including Soseki's Botchan, books by Kawabata, and Burmese Harp by Michio Tateyama, which apparently became widely known in Myanmar. The article explains that Ye Mya Lwin couldn't find a published for Botchan, so he financed the publication himself in 1995 by selling his wife's gold chain!

He is quoted in the article as saying: 
“Books written by Asian writers can’t be perfectly translated by translators from the West because Asian culture totally differs from that of west. ... Direct translation [from Japanese to Burmese] is like eating a fresh fruit on a tree while translating a book already translated in English is like eating a fruit dropped to the ground by a squirrel.” 
On this last point, I could not agree more with Mr Ye!

You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

English Translation of Killing Commendatore in October? Volume One in Danish already in May!

The date for the publication of the English translation of Killing Commendatore keeps changing. I posted in January that it was to appear in September 2018. Later it changed on Amazon to November. Now both,, as well as the Random House page announced a new date for the publication of the English translation of Killing Commendatore: October 9. The book can already be preordered. Looking at these temporary covers, I can't help wondering why the title is not "Killing the Commendatore."

And here are the beautiful cover designs for the two volumes of the Danish translation by Mette Holm. Volume I is to appear from KLIM on May 24, and Volume II on October 18 of this year.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Chinese Translation of Killing Commendatore Took Only 85 Days, Says Lin Shaohua, the Translator

The mainland Chinese translation of Killing Commendatore will be released on March 10 from Shanghai Translation Publishing. It is already possible to preorder the book -- and those who do will receive a free copy of a new edition of Norwegian Wood that was published in 2017 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the book's publication.

The initial print run is to be 700, 000 copies. Below is an image of the book, which, like the original Japanese version, will be published in two volumes. One wonders why the English title was put on the cover.

What makes the story of this translation amazing is the speed with which the translator, Lin Shaohua, completed the work. Lin has been translating Murakami for many years. Among his credits are Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, Dance, Dance, Dance, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, Kafka on the Shore, All God's Children Can Dance, The End of the World and Hard-Boiled Wonderland, South of the Border, West of the Sun, A Wild Sheep Chase, After Dark, along with many essays, travelogues, etc. 

In an article found in the online journal Pengpai, Lin describes how he worked on the book. Apparently he took himself out to the countryside and, working every day armed only with a stack of paper and a ballpoint pen, managed to finish translating the 1050-page book in 85 days!  While I can see how this could be done -- Lin's pace works out to about 12.5 pages per day -- in my case, life often seems to get in the way of translating and I am only in the middle of Volume Two myself.  This is a case of true dedication. Lin said that, after he was done, his brain was fine but his hand hurt (and this is another amazing part -- a translator writing in longhand!), and the editor offered to send him some Chinese medicine. The article can be found here.