Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Totally Invisible Translator? Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki No 1 on NYT Fiction Hardcover Bestseller List

The Atlantic published a review of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Nathaniel Rich ("The Mystery of Murakami," August 14, 2014). Mr. Rich criticizes Murakami's formulaic writing, which uses the same type of main character and similar plot devices and elements (like "eastern-European composers") in every novel. He summarizes the book, commenting on its "wistful, mysterious, winsome, disturbing, seductive" tone. But later, Rich proceeds to say something astonishing that will interest any readers who have wondered about the translation process: 

And page after page, we are confronted with the riddle that is Murakami's prose. No great writer writes as many bad sentences as Murakami does. His crimes include awkward construction ("Just as he appreciated Sara’s appearance, he also enjoyed the way she dressed”); cliché addiction (from a single, paragraph-long character description: “He really hustled on the field … He wasn’t good at buckling down … He always looked people straight in the eye, spoke in a clear, strong voice, and had an amazing appetite … He was a good listener and a born leader”); and lazy repetition (“Sara gazed at his face for some time before speaking,” followed shortly by “Sara gazed at Tsukuru for a time before she spoke”). [my underline]

Next follows a fragment about dialogue in the novel being "robotic" (although "charmingly so"), illustrated with an example. 

As a translator I am left speechless upon reading this. Nowhere in the review does Rich mention the name of the translator, Philip Gabriel. That in itself is not unusual. Many reviews forget to mention the translator. But if one is to engage is such a meticulous listing of "bad sentences,""awkward construction," etc., is it not necessary to reflect on the simple fact that every word one has read was in fact Gabriel's, not Murakami's? Rich, however, seems oblivious to the fact that Gabriel was the means that made it possible for him to read Murakami at all. 

I am not saying that all the awkwardness and bad sentences Rich found in Tsukuru Tazaki are necessarily Gabriel's "fault" (there is indeed a fair amount of verbal repetition in much of Murakami's writing).  It is not as simple as that.  Translation, needless to say, is a very complicated and nuanced process: it is disappointing, not to say shocking, to read in a leading magazine a review by someone with claims to be a serious critic who, in describing a work written in a foreign language, refuses to take the translation process into account and who seems to labor under the mistaken impression that he is in fact reading the book exactly the way Murakami has written it.  

Rich does not let such technical details get in his way, and finds an explanation for Murakami's "ugly sentences." Following a comment about some passages being examples of "elegant, inventive, figurative" prose, he writes: 

How is the author of these lines capable of an atrocity like “Her smile had ratcheted up a notch”? The most charitable explanation is that in Murakami’s fiction, his ugly sentences, though often distracting, serve a strategic purpose. Like the hokey vernacular and use of brand names in Stephen King’s fiction, Murakami’s impoverished language situates us in a realm of utter banality, a simplified black-and-white world in which everything is as it appears. When, inevitably, we pass through a wormhole into an uncanny dimension of fantasy and chaos, the contrast is unnerving.

Perhaps. But without having bothered to consult the Japanese (or even consider the possible need to do so), Nathaniel Rich is surely in a poor position to make any comment on Murakami's prose at this level of detail.

It seems that I am not the only one surprised by Mr. Rich's review. In today's New York Times (31 August 2014), Jennifer Szalai refers to this review in her commentary on the fact that Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was number one on the hardcover bestseller list the week of August 10-16.  Referring to Rich's criticism of Murakami's prose, Szalai says: "But does the trouble originate with Murakami or with his translator, in this case Philip Gabriel. Then again, is the trouble really troublesome all all?"  

To read the original review, go to:  Let me know what you think!

And here - just for fun - are some comments from posted under the review. Many readers seem to share my view:

"iago" writes:
Is it possible that, as Murakami writes in Japanese, the "bad sentences" are provided by the translator (Philip Gabriel in this case)? Or are you critiquing the original Japanese as being badly constructed?

to which somebody responded:
Actually this is an idea that seemingly hasn't occurred to Mr Rich, considering the length of this article he would most likely have mentioned it otherwise. To mock Murakami's language while not realising this is quite idiotic, frankly.

Kathleen Putnam commented:
Idiotic is precisely the word. I suggest Mr. Rich might consider the problems of translation. To do so, he might read Tim Parks' various posts on the New York Review of Books' website, or (if he can read Italian) Umberto Eco's "Dire quasi la stessa cosa" [Saying Almost the Same Thing].

and the first respondent finished with:
Hehe, i seriously doubt the good Mr rich reads Japanese.

A reader using a name GIJ said:
"No great writer writes as many bad sentences as Murakami does."
Uh, maybe others disagree, but if Murakami himself is *not* writing these "bad" sentences as they are rendered in English from the original Japanese, then why credit/blame Murakami for writing them?

Friday, August 29, 2014

"My Imagination Is a Kind of Animal. So What I Do Is to Keep It Alive."

Haruki Murakami met with readers at the Guardian Book Club during the Edinburgh International Book Festival last weekend. published an article about the event, including some of the Murakami's answers to readers questions. My favorite quote is the one I used for this post's title:

 “My imagination is a kind of animal. So what I do is keep it alive”

A friend of mine attended both "Murakami events" in Edinburgh. Perhaps I can entice her to write about her impressions for this blog. I will try!

To read the Guardian article go to:

A New Review, 10 Best Haruki Murakami Novels, Five Stories to Read Online, and a Murakami Quiz

The Boston Globe published a review of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Josh Freeman. The review begins: "How does he do it? His sentences are as unfussy as Finnish furniture."  Doubtless an allusion to the Scandinavian setting for part of the novel, it is the kind of sentence Murakami himself would probably like. To read the review go to:

Publishers Weekly published an article by well-know Murakami scholar Matthew Strecher, which includes his ranking of the ten best Murakami novels: A Wild Sheep Chase is at the top, followed by The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. To discover the rest of the list, go to: (
Strecher, of course, is the author of Dances With Sheep: The Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Haruki Murakami and a reader's guide to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. His newest book, The Forbidden Worlds of Murakami Haruki, has just appeared. advertises the fact that five Murakami stories  [one comes from a novel] can be read online for free for a limited time and encourages fans to take advantage of the opportunity. Here are the links to the stories:
"Samsa in Love"
Town of Cats
"U.F.O. in Kushiro"
"The Folklore of Our Times"

You can read their interesting article here:

And finally, here is a link to another Murakami quiz:

Most questions are easy, but would you know how to answer this one?
One of contemporary literature's more athletic practitioners, Murakami has completed long-distance runs of up to what distance?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ask a Question of Haruki Murakami and You May Get an Answer Tomorrow

Readers who want to ask Haruki Murakami a question may post in on this page:
Murakami will be answering questions during Edinburgh Book Festival tomorrow.

The article says the following about the event:
"The conversation with Mullan will centre, of course, on that book [i.e. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle]. But there will also be a chance for you to participate remotely. We will reserve the last few minutes of the event for a few selected questions from you – and will bring you the answers on the Guardian Books site shortly afterwards."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NPR Reviews Tsukuru Tazaki

"It is not every author who can draw fans to to the bookstores around the globe for midnight releases" is how the NPR story on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki starts. The review talks about"gorgeous contemplative prose" and occasional "boring descriptions."

Here is the link where you can listen to or read Meg Wolitzer's review (a little over 3 minutes):

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

More Videos, Reviews and Articles Precede Tomorrow's Release

A new video advertising Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was posted today on YouTube by Knopf Doubleday. It calls the book a "phenomenal new novel."

This is a link to another - slightly spooky - video about the novel:

The New York Times (Times Premier) has just published an article titled "The Murakami Effect" by Pamela Paul, which talks about the review by Patti Smith from last week's NYT Book Review (see the link the August 5th post) and the illustration by Yuko Shimizu accompanying the review.
(for this link to work one needs to have access to Times Premier).

Also, has published a review by Laura Miller.  The piece is titled: "Murakami's understated triumph: What Japan's most celebrated writer knows that American novelists don't. " Miller says that Murakami tends to write long novels ("mammoth and intricate doorstops) like 1Q84 and shorter "mood pieces" like After Dark or Sputnik Sweetheart. She includes Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki in the second group and Miller praised its "direct, neutral, unvarnished and unprettified prose style."

To read the review go to:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tsukuru Tazaki US Bookstore Release Parties Announced

A number of bookstores around the US will host Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki midnight release parties on Monday, August 11.  It looks like they are following the pattern of the Japanese release, which also happened at midnight.  The list of bookstores includes 4 bookstores in New York and one each in Lost Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, St. Paul, Seattle, Oxford, MS, and Wichita. The full list with links can be found at

Green Apple Books in San Francisco says that tomorrow's event will include:

"Food and beer!
A Murakami trivia contest written by Murakami scholar Matthew Strecher
Raffle for signed first editions of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
A costume party--come dressed as your favorite Murakami character (might we suggest something like this?)
Many more surprises!"

Community Bookstore in Brooklyn will host "New Murakami Book + Karaoke + a chance to win SIGNED COPIES= MIdnight Release Party!!". There will be raffle where one can win a limited number of signed copies of the new novel, but also "beer, snack and karaoke." 

Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago during their "midnight murakami release party bash" promises: 
"A chance to score a limited edition *SIGNED* copy of COLORLESS TSUKURU 
Beverages from Dry Hop Chicago
Unique photo opportunities!
Murakami inspired music

Sticker Competition and Haruki Murakami Fan Ambassador Contest

On August 6 a "sticker competition" was announced on Haruki Murakami's Facebook page. In June I posted about stickers that will come with the British edition of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. The readers are to decorate their books to "create their own personalized covers." Now it turns out that they can also enter a competition. We read on Facebook:

"To enter, email a photograph of your sticker design as a 300dpi jpeg to by 31st August. All the entries will be added to our special album ‘Sticker Competition’ ( where you can also vote for your favourites. The book cover with the most ‘likes’ on 31st August will be crowned the winner. A selection of the best entries as voted for by you will also be exhibited at Waterstones Piccadilly in London on 30th August at Haruki Murakami’s public signing."

On this page you can also read more about the competition and see an example of a decorated cover on video.  

Not to be undone, the American publishers came up with another contest on the very same day: 

Share your love of reading Haruki Murakami's writing with your friends and family; enter for a chance to be a Murakami fan ambassador.
25 winners will receive four copies of NORWEGIAN WOOD to share with the readers in their lives and a signed copy of COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE to keep.
15 runners-up will receive an artwork inspired by the new book, signed by Haruki Murakami.
For more information/to enter visit:

(The contest runs until 8/12/14. Our apologies, this contest is open to US residents only).

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Haruki Murakami Will Be Signing Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki in London and Edinburgh

Haruki Murakami will be signing copies of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki in Waterstones Picadilly in London on August 30 at 11am.
The bookstore must be expecting a great turnout, since the website lists strict rules describing how the event will be organized.

Terms and conditions

  1. Haruki Murakami will be signing copies of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage at Waterstones Piccadilly on Saturday 30th August at 11am. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment.
  2. Due to time constraints Haruki Murakami will sign a strictly limited number of copies only.
  3. Customers will receive their wristband for this event when they purchase Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage on Saturday 30th August at 8.30am, or when they bring a valid Waterstones receipt/ despatch note with their copy on the day of the signing.
  4. One wristband will be issued per customer, on a first come first served basis, and are non-transferable.
  5. The first 200 people in the queue will have the opportunity to meet Haruki Murakami on the day and have their book signed and dedicated, (name only). Please note books for signing are limited to one copy of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage per person, in order to accommodate as many of our Haruki Murkami’s fans as possible.
  6. Those who are not lucky enough to meet Haruki Murakami on the day, will be guaranteed the opportunity to buy a rare pre-signed edition. These will be limited to 200 copies only, one per person.
  7. Please note that no photographs or cameras are allowed.
  8. We are expecting a large number of customers to attend this event and wristbands are limited, we hope to be able to allow as many people the opportunity to have their book signed, however please note Waterstones cannot guarantee entry.
  9. The signing time is discretionary. All details are subject to change.
To see the whole announcement, go to:

Murakami will also be signing books during the International Book Festival in Edinburgh following a book launch on August 24th 6:30-7:30. I heard through the grapevine that the tickets disappeared within a few minutes after going on sale.


 Sun 24 Aug 6:30pm - 7:30pm

 Baillie Gifford Main Theatre

 £10.00, £8.00

SOLD OUTHaruki Murakami


Haruki Murakami has been described as ‘Japan’s version of JD Salinger’ – a rarely-interviewed author with an enormous worldwide following thanks to books including Norwegian Wood and 1Q84. He joins us in Edinburgh for the worldwide English-language launch of his new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which sold more than 1 million copies in the week after its release in Japan.
Please note: the book signing after this event will be restricted to a limited number of ticket holders.

An Excerpt from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki published on

"Haida's Story," a long excerpt from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was published on on July 27, so some impatient readers can get the first taste of the novel before its official release next Tuesday. Although one does wonder why they called this story a "folktale..."

Haida’s Story

By A folktale from Haruki Murakami’s new novel,Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Here is the first sentence:
One Saturday night, Tsukuru and Haida were up talking late as usual when they turned to the subject of death.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reviews of the English Translation of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Appearing One After Another

With the release date of the English-language Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki approaching fast, reviews started appearing one after another.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review published a piece by Patti Smith titled "Deep Chords," where she says that "readers wait for his [Murakami's] work the way past generations lined up at record stores for new albums by the Beatles or Bob Dylan" and talks about the "Murakami effect." Smith says that "the book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin."

To read the review go to:

The Independent published a review of the novel on Friday, August 3. The reviewer, Boyd Tonkin, writes: "Set alongside the parallel-universe dystopian extravaganza of 1Q84, this novel feels as modestly functional as the commuter stations its hero builds." He also refers to "this author's signature tune, an almost child-like naivety harmonised with riddling sophistication, sounds throughout."

To read the review go to:

Financial Times

There is also a David Pilling review in the Financial Times of August 1st. Pilling calls the plot "simplicity itself" and says that the novel is not his favorite among Murakami's books (he likes Hard-Boiled Wonderland), but adds that it is "one of his most coherent and, in its tight and tidy way, one of the most satisfying."

To read the review go to:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Listed As Number 1 "Summer Read"

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which is to be released in 9 days in English, was listed on as the Number One Summer Read for this summer. It is advertised as being "comparatively short" and returning to less "trippy themes." The "design-your-own-cover stickers" are also mentioned.