Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova, or Not Just Another Monkey

The American version of First Person Singular came out today from Knopf in Philip Gabriel's translation. When I saw the book, I thought to myself, "Oh, another monkey," remembering the many European cover designs featuring monkeys that I shared in a previous post. I had seen the cover on Amazon before, but holding the book in my hands, I discovered that there are in fact even more images of monkeys on the back cover and inside.


Having checked that the book was designed by the very creative Chip Kidd, I was a little disappointed until I took off the dust jacket. This is what is underneath:

This is in fact the jacket of the non-existent album Murakami made up in the story "Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova!" I love this cover - and I loved the story. It turns out I was not the only person who loved it. 

The Polish translation inspired composer and producer Miłosz Konarski (picured left) to create a new album with saxophonist Wojtek Rejdych (pictured below). The album has the same title and was released today, on the day the English version of the book came out. You can read more about the album or stream it at: https://charlieparkerplaysbossanova.com/ (which is where the pictures came from).

What I probably enjoyed most when translating this collection were the poems from the story "The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection." These funny, clever compositions were supposedly written by the narrator - Murakami - when watching games played by his favorite team, the Yakult Swallows. The poem I found most amusing was titled "Outfielders' Butt," and I was thinking that maybe some baseball-related element would make it to the cover. 

The poem includes some great lines, like these: 

        The butt of the Hiroshima Carp's player Shane
        Is deeply thoughtful, cerebral.
        Reflective, you might say.
        People really should have called him by his full name,
        If for nothing else, then to show respect for that one-of-a-kind butt.

For the next post, I will try to collect translations of these lines into a few languages. 

Incidentally, it seems that Murakami is not the only one pondering on outfielders' butts during boring games. A simple Google search under "baseball butts" produces quite a lot of results with ranking lists of "best butts in baseball," "10 best butts in baseball," or "major league baseball best butts." I didn't know baseball butts were a thing...  .

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Murakami Monkeys in Europe: First Person Singular out in a Few European Countries

Murakami's latest short story collection, First Person Singular, has been published in several European countries. The new translations include German, Norwegian, Italian, Dutch, and Danish versions.

The first two, which appeared in January, were the German translation by Ursula Gräfe (Dumont) and the Norwegian version by Ika Kaminka (Pax). The Norwegian cover seems to be inspired by the story of the Shinagawa monkey.

March brought three more translations, all of them featuring monkeys on their covers, albeit each quite different in terms of color and style. The Italian version came out on March 9. The translator is Antonietta Pastore and the publisher Einaudi. The Danish translation appeared just a few days ago, on March 26, in Mette Holm's translation from Klim. Mette says that the first reviews are good.
The translator of the Dutch version, Elbrich Fennema (Atlas Contact), decided to promote the book herself; with the help of a grant from the Dutch Literature Foundation, she produced a book trailer. The purpose was to explore new ways of reaching readers during the pandemic. Here is the link to the trailer on Vimeo and the front and back covers of the Dutch version. 

The Vimeo page also gives a link to Elbrich's webpage, where one can find information about her writing, translations, etc. as well as her reactions to reviews (they can be read using Google Translate!).

The English version, translated by Philip Gabriel, is due to come out on April 6.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

First Person Singular in Polish and in English (in April 2021), and Pinball, 1973 in Turkish

 Breaking news from the publishing front: my translation of Murakami's latest story collection, Ichininshō tansū (First Person Singular), has just appeared in Polish bookstores. Here's what it looks like

The publisher, Muza, used the same cover design template now so well known to Polish readers since the first Muza Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase, in 2003 (the very first Murakami in Polish was published in 1994 by another publisher). That original design and the first few covers were done by the talented Agnieszka Spyrka. After her untimely death, the new designers have been asked to keep the same general form, with Murakami's name written vertically against a backdrop of bold colors. 

The English-language version of First Person Singular, in Philip Gabriel's translation, is scheduled to come out on April 6, 2021 from Knopf/Random House and Harvill Secker. The book can already be pre-ordered on Amazon. This is the description from the Amazon page.

"The eight stories in this new book are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From memories of youth, meditations on music, and an ardent love of baseball, to dreamlike scenarios and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator may or may not be Murakami himself. Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides. Philosophical and mysterious, the stories in First Person Singular all touch beautifully on love and solitude, childhood and memory. . . all with a signature Murakami twist."

The Penguin Random House page, on the other hand, says:

"A riveting new collection of short stories from the beloved, internationally acclaimed Haruki                     Murakami.The eight masterful stories in this new collection are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator, a lonely man. Some of them (like "With the Beatles," "Cream" and "On a Stone Pillow") are nostalgic looks back at youth. Others are set in adulthood--"Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova," "Carnaval," "Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey" and the title story, "First Person Singular." Occasionally, a narrator who may or may not be Haruki himself is present, as in "The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection." Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides. The stories touch beautifully on love and loss, childhood and death . . . all with a signature Murakami twist."

While both end on the same note ("Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides"), the two descriptions are in fact quite different. Amazon seems to appeal to readers' expectations about Murakami's style, referring to "boundaries between our minds and the exterior world," "dreamlike scenarios," and the "classic Murakami narrator," while  Penguin Random House seems to hope it can sell the book simply by using generic adjectives like "masterful," "beloved," and "internationally acclaimed." 

The US (Knopf) and the British (Harvill Secker) covers were introduced on Facebook on the same day, October 14 of this year. Both feature a monkey, no doubt referring to the story, "Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey," but as usual, the difference in style between the two covers is striking. 



I also wanted to announce the publication of the Turkish translation of Pinball, 1973 by Ali Volkan Erdemir. The publisher, as with other translations by Volkan, is Doǧan Kitap. Though the title is given as Pinball, 1973 on the publisher's page, the comma seems to be missing from the cover (a very cool cover design, by the way). Perhaps Volkan can shed some light on this apparent mystery?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Mystery of the Ace of Spades and Dance, Dance, Dance in Turkish

Good news for Turkish readers! Ali Volkan Erdemir's translation of Dance, dance, dance was just published by Doǧan Kitap.

Volkan shares below some thoughts about his experience with this translation:

"I have been translating Murakami's works into Turkish since 2015 and Dance Dance Dance is my tenth translation. Published in 1988, it is one of my favorites. While translating, I felt connected most of the characters such as "boku," Yuki, and Dick North, but the Sheep Man is always special for his pure heart. Just as the Sheep Man finds peace in his own world, I find peace in Murakami's world. Hopefully my bond will always continue with future translations."

In this same e-mail, Volkan mentioned that he would be translating Pinball, 1973 next. This reminded me of some translation-related problems I ran into when I working on that book, which required me to contact a number of Polish pinball aficionados for help with terminology for different parts of pinball machines. Never having played pinball before, I also went to an arcade to be able to see for myself how pinball machines work (it turns out I was not very good!). And as I was reading about different types of machines in the novel, I searched for some of them by name on the Internet to see what they looked like. Here I ran into a problem with the ace of spades.

 Here is the problematic passage in question, in two English translations:

Alfred Birnbaum (1985):
"Kings and Queens," a model with eight roll-over lanes.  A beautifully mustached, crewcut, nonchalant-looking Western gambler, with an ace hidden behind his spur."

Ted Goossen (2015):
"Gottlieb's Kings & Queens, the model with eight rollover lanes. It featured a Western Gambler with a manicured mustache, a nonchalant expression, and an ace of spades tucked in his suspenders."

In the original Japanese the second sentence says, "Kuchihige o kirei ni kariageta noncharan na kaotsuki no seibu no gyanburā, kutsushitadome ni kakushita supēdo no ēsu."

Literally, this gives us something like, "A Western gambler with a beautifully trimmed mustache, a nonchalant expression, and an ace of spades hidden in (or: under) [his] sock garter."

So where exactly is the ace of spades? 

Let's look at a picture of the machine in question, which shows three none-too-honest players involved in a game of poker:

It appears that the gambler seated in the purple jacket has an ace of hearts hidden in his right sleeve, but if he is wearing sock garters, or suspenders, or spurs, these are nowhere in sight. Looking around the table, though, we indeed find the ace of spades -- hidden in the cleavage of the blonde on the left! 

In such a situation -- where it appears that the author's memory has deceived him -- what should a translator do? Change the text to accord with the image on the machine? Leave it alone and hope that no one catches the mistake? Provide a footnote? (I left it alone in the Polish translation, which came out in 2014, translating the passage as "hidden in his garter," which the editor later changed to "hidden in his sock," feeling that reaching up two one's garter to extract the ace would be too noiticeable)

This experience also reminds me what a difference the Internet makes in a translator's life. When Alfred Birnbaum was translating the book thirty-five years ago, he had no option of just Googling the machine in question. He could only frequent game arcades in the hopes of spotting one, following Boku's example. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The New Short Story Anthology Is Out

The new short story anthology by Haruki Murakami, titled Ichinishō Tansū (First Person Singular), published by Bungei Shunjū, appeared on July 18 in Japan. Note the clever cover design with the same motif repeated on the obi

As I mentioned in an earlier post, seven of the eight stories have appeared previously in Bunkakukai (four of them are available in English). The last story in the anthology, however, is new -- and the collection bears its title. One wonders if the title might be a reference to John Updike's series of essays about his boyhood and youth published in Assorted Prose. They have also appeared in Japanese translation in 1977 (see the image below).

Speaking of John Updike, there is a charming super short story by Murakami called "Jon Apudaiku o yomu tame no sairyō no basho" (The Best Place for Reading John Updike), published in 1986 in Zōkōjō no happiiendo (The Happy End of the Elephant Factory). 

The new Murakami stories are all written in the first person singular; many are reminiscences from his childhood or college years. Interestingly enough, seven of the eight are written by Boku (first person singular pronoun, used mostly by males), and one is written by Watashi (the most universal first person singular pronoun). Also, six of the seven Bokus use kanji to write "boku," while the seventh uses hiragana. One imagines that this difference between pronouns is something that will most likely get lost in translation.
Another potential challenge for translators is that two stories ("Ishi no makura ni" (On a Stone Pillow) and "Yakuruto Suwarōzu shishū" (The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection) include poems - in the first one we find a number of poems in the classical Japanese form of tanka; in the second - free verse).  

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Great New Book on English Translations of Murakami

 I want to recommend an excellent book which will be coming out on September 1 from Soft Skull Press: Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami, by David Karashima. This is a rewriting of a similar book David published in Japanese in 2018, under the title Haruki Murakami o yonde iru toki ni wareware ga yonde iru monotachi. The English version covers much the same territory, but is in a way a whole new book. Here are the two covers:

The title -- both titles -- are an obvious reference to Murakami's book about running (What I Talk about When I Talk about Running), which in turn is a reference to Carver's story, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love," translated by Murakami. Notice that the Japanese title not only gives Murakami's name in English, but also in the English order (given name first), unlike in Japanese. This is because the book is about Murakami in English. It tells the story of how Murakami's early works were edited, cut, and molded to make him a success in the West - an approach that clearly paid off. David interviewed the main characters involved in this enterprise: translator Alfred Birnbaum and editor Elmer Luke (who used to work for Kodansha International). He also talked to the British editor, to editors at Knopf and The New Yorker, to Jay Rubin, and many others. The book is eye-opening, enabling one to better understand how Murakami became the literary star that he is in the West. It's also a great read.

David Karashima teaches creative writing at Waseda University in Tokyo. He has translated a numbr of Japanese writers, including Hitomi Kanehara, Hisaki Matsuura, and Shinji Ishii.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

New Murakami Short Story Anthology To Come out in July

It has been announced that a new short story anthology by Haruki Murakami, titled Ichininshō tansū  [First person singular] will be published on July 18, 2020 in Japan. This will be the first Murakami story collection in six years, since Men without Woman. Apparently, it will include seven short stories published in the literary magazine Bungakukai during 2018 and 2019, and at least one new story - perhaps the title one?  

Four of the stories have already appeared in English translation. "Cream," "With the Beatles," and "Confessions of the Shinagawa Monkey" were published in The New Yorker. The first one appeared in the January 18, 2019 issue (you can find it here), the second one in the February 17-24, 2020 issue (you can find it here), and the last one in the June 8-15, 2020 issue (you can find it here). A fourth story, "Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova," appeared in Granta 148, August 1, 2019 (you can find it here). All have been translated by Philip Gabriel. 

The book may be pre-ordered on Amazon Japan here. So far, the cover has not been released. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

James Westerhoven Wins an Important Translation Award

I have not posted in months - but not for lack of material! Sometimes, things just don't happen for no good reason. The coronavirus didn't help, either. But there is one post I have been meaning to write for a few months because it concerns a fellow Murakami translator who has contributed his thoughts to this blog in the past.

James (Jacques) Westerhoven, the leading Dutch translator of Murakami (and many other writers), won the 2020 Martinus Nijhoff Translation Award, the most prestigious translation award in the Netherlands and Belgium. The award ceremony was to take place in March, but was moved to September, due to Covid 19.

The Wikipedia page for the award says that James won the prize for his translations from Japanese, including those of Haruki Murakami and Jumpei Gomikawa. The prize was established in 1953 in memory of the poet and translator, Martinus Nijhoff, and has been awarded since 1955. It seems that the last time the prize was given for translations from Japanese was 1985. 

The jury had this to say about James (I am relying on Google Translate here): "'Translating exactly what the text says' is certainly not Westerhoven's motto, even though he does translate what it says, but he does it in the appropriate key and with the necessary modulation. With his translations, his afterwords and articles, Jacques Westerhoven has done an invaluable service both to Japanese literary culture and to the Dutch readership."

Below are some (not all) of James's translations of Murakami Haruki.

As I was looking on the internet for James's translations, I came across this cover (right). It is Een stoomfluit midden in den nacht (Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night), which is the title of one of the short shorts from Murakami's 1995 collection Yoru no kumozaru (Spider Monkey of the Night). The book includes that and two more stories English language readers won't find anywhere: "Kanō Kureta" (Creta Kanō, 1990 - the same name as the character from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) and "Futago to shizunda tairiku" (Twins and the Sunken Continent, 1985 - the same twins as the ones that appear in Pinball, 1973). What a treat for Dutch readers! Although perhaps not all readers? I have found a blog online where the author says that the book "was a New Year's gift of a group of Dutch publishers. Not for sale." Perhaps James can shed some light on this?

Besides Murakami, James has translated a variety of writers including Junichiro Tanizaki, Kenzaburo Oe, Yukio Mishima, Jumpei Gomikawa, and Yasushi Inoue. He has also translated Osamu Dazai and Jiro Nitta into English. 

Here are some covers of James's non-Murakami translations.


Once again, Congratulations, James!