Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The names, the names

Already in the first chapters they are there, the names, the main character Tsukuru's friends: Akamatsu, Ōmi, Shirane and Kurono. The four colourful friends. Red pine. Blue sea. White root. Black field. But nicknamed just Aka, Ao, Shiro and Kuro – Red, Blue, White and Black. The names, and colours, play an important role in the book, all the covers designed so far, have used the colours as their theme, and the colorful characters are introduced already in the first chapter:


What to do with them in translation? In Polish and Dutch it seems they have been translated into local names. In German, the names are retained, but explained.

Allerdings hatten die anderen vier eine weitere zufällige Gemeinsamkeit, die Tsukuru Tazaki als Einziger nicht teilte. In jedem ihrer Nachnahmen kam eine Farbe vor. Die beiden Jungen hiessen Akamatsu – Rotkiefer – under Oumi – blaues Meer. Die beiden Mädchen Shirane – weisse Wurzel – und Kurono – schwarzes Feld. Nur der Name Tazaki beinhaltete keine Farbe …

Ursula Gräfe, the German translator, goes on to keep the nicknames of the four as they are: Aka, Ao, Shiro and Kuro, the standard Japanese words for the four colours in question. In Norway we are two people collaborating on the translation, and we are debating what to do.

I am inclined to use Norwegian colour words, but I am far from sure. My co-translator Magne Tørring is strongly against it. Using Norwegian names will pull the book in the direction of a fantasy novel or a childrens' story. It just seems puerile, and as such, does not suit the style of the book, nor its content. Morover, having characters with Norwegian names living in the middle of Tokyo is simply not believable. He maintains.

But then, on the other hand, the Norwegian – or Polish or English – reader will not associate any colours with the words "Aka", "Ao", "Shiro" and "Kuro", no matter how many times their meaning is explained to them. They will not see the colours for their inner eye they way they will when reading the words "Red", "Blue", "White" and "Black". And the colours are significant – colours – or lack thereof – give the book its title, colours define the main character's sense of self – or lack thereof. Why cancel this out, keep it away from the reader? Just for fear of sounding childish?

While the names of the four friends are written with kanji, the nicknames are written in katakana, the phonetic syllabary used for emphasis, foreign loan words, and zoological and botanical expressions. The names stand out, they are singled out typographically with the Japanese version of inverted commas, and on the page look quite different from the name Tsukuru.

Still not convinced, I remember that the Swedish translation is supposed to be out about now. I find it, download it and check it out. Good old Yukiko Duke has come up with a compromise: "De båda killernas namn var Akamatsu – Rödtall – och Oumi – Blåhav, de bådatjejernas var Shirane – Vitrot – och Kurono – Svartäng." she writes, following Ursula German in first transcribing the names and then adding a translation or explanation. But henceforth when referring to them by their nicknames, she translates the nicknames into Swedish colours: Röd, Blå, Vit, Svart. It works. Two pages in, I am convinced. This is no childs' play.

I need to have another discussion with my co-translator. 

Ika Kaminka

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