Saturday, 1 July 2006

It’s Murakami day. Two reviews of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: in The Australian by Stella Clarke and in The Sydney Morning Herald by Andrew Riemer.

And early this afternoon Suzi at Gleebooks called to tell me my copy had arrived in the store. After reading the broadsheets I jumped in the Echo and scooted down there. No parking on Glebe Point Road, of course, but just off it I managed to find a space. But no coins. So I ran down the road panting and picked it up, quickly, before I got a ticket. And then back to Campsie to gloat over my new possession.

A review will follow soon.

Riemer doesn't like the translation:

I found myself wondering how much had been lost in translation with these slight, occasionally almost silly stories. The two translators who take turns with these tales seem competent enough, even though they are prone to write in what I think of as American College English (both are academics). I suspect that there are nuances of style and allusion in the originals which these workaday versions fail to capture. Perhaps these stories had something vital and urgent to say to their Japanese readers of past decades.

And later:

Here, despite the Japanese themes and characters, I fancied that I had landed - in a somewhat surreal way, perhaps - bang in the middle of an American college campus. But it struck me that the effect may be appropriate, given Murakami's popularity in the US, reflected by the clamour from his agent for more and more short stories.

Not the most enthusiastic reception, you must admit. Of course, many others, not the least such luminaries as Kenzaburo Oe, have voiced similar misgivings about Murakami's work. But light-weight is not what occurs to me when I read his transient, mystical stories.

Clarke also muses on the possibility of really making a story that works in one language, work in another:

The result of his fusing of sensibilities is that readers inside and outside Japan find his work fresh and provocative, whether from different perspectives it is difficult to say. Is a poor aunt a different entity across borders? Is adultery in Japan a misdemeanour of another order?

On the translation itself she is more positive:

Murakami's translators have done a good job for him, not snagging on those aspects of the language that may draw attention to Japan's otherness.

In his introduction to the English translation, Murakami himself voices his opinion of his work:

Come to think of it ... everything I write is, more or less, a strange tale.

Strange indeed! Yes: these are strange tales, but beautiful, lyrical, and rich with a very human voice. I'll end with the author's own opinion of his standing in the Japanese world of letters. Obviously he's not comfortable there:

At the time [of his first publishing], I could not fit in well with the Japanese literary establishment, a situation that persists to the present day.

This only increases my opinion of him. Japan is a tight, stultifying place, filled with men and women of mean spirits and narrow views. If this writer feels more at home in the West — where I live — I feel more at home here as a result.

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