Monday, November 30, 2009

Lost in Translation

When I left for Turkey, I was 2/3 of the way into Murakami's running book, which I had borrowed from the library. I didn't fancy lugging it around for two weeks, so rather than renewing it and letting it sit at home unused, I returned it. Today I went to the library, found a copy of the English translation, and sat down to finish it off.

The translation was awful: the narrative voice is off and the prose is poor. (It read like something I might produce.) There is a manner of vagueness (for lack of a better expression) that is perfectly acceptable in Japanese, but which, when rendered artlessly into English, is perfectly abominable. This was extensively detailed in Goeff Dyer's review in the NY Times:

On Page 25 he tells us that the “kind of” jazz club he used to run was “pretty rare” and served “pretty decent food” and that he was “pretty naïve.” Moving on, we learn that he was “pretty surprised” when his first novel was “fairly well received,” that his Cambridge apartment was “pretty noisy,” that his new running shoes have been “pretty well” broken in, that he is “pretty easygoing” and had “a pretty good feeling for the pace” he would need to maintain in the New York marathon.
Ugh. Dyer dryly remarks that Murakami's is "the type of prose I would call sort of pretty poor." He goes on to say that "Either he’s the kind of writer who’s a pretty poor editor of his own stuff or this kind of lazy repetition is deliberate." I don't recall getting that impression while reading the original (Japanese) version, but it's possible that I'm less discerning when reading in my second language.

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