Tag Archives: jay rubin

The Art of Translation

Image result for korean to english

How much freedom does a translator have when sculpting a literary work into another language?

That seems to be the burning question recently behind Deborah Smith’s “brilliant but flawed translation” of Han Kang’s Man Booker International  Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Charse Yun’s article “How the Bestseller ‘The Vegetarian,’ Translated from Han Kang’s Original, Caused an Uproar in South Korea” points out how pundits are now revealing glaring errors, omissions and flat-out additions to Han Kang’s original Korean manuscript.

Justified? Necessary? Helpful for the average English reader?

Yes, says I.

If you’re familiar with older translations of Korean novels, then you’re also familiar with the all-too-familiar feeling of your eyes being gouged out by the words on the page; they’re unnatural, inconsistent, misleading, and confusing much of the time. The result is a hackneyed version of what is purported to be, in its original Korean version, “great” or “incredible” or “fantastic.”

For a closer look at the challenges faced by translators, check out this insightful look into the world of translating Japanese literature into English, specifically the works of Murakami Haruki. The three participants in this email “roundtable” were Philip Gabriel, Murakami translator and professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Jay Rubin, Murakami translator and professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University, and Gary Fisketjon, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

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Remembering Raymond Carver

LATE FRAGMENT

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

(from the inscription on Raymond Carver’s tombstone)

James Carver recently wrote a very nice piece about love, literature and remembrance that he posted on medium.com called “A Tribute to Raymond Carver on His Birthday, by His Brother James — With Never-Before-Seen Family Photos” to commemorate his late brother’s birthday, which was May 25. His big bro was an American literary giant in his day, author of notable works like Cathedral and the stories “Why Don’t You Dance?” and “Errand.” Although he lived a somewhat scandalous, alcohol-fueled life (on a par with other writers like Hemingway, Kerouac and Fitzgerald at times), he’s regarded as a titan in the field of American literature, as evidenced by his induction in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988.

For those who’ve read Raymond Carver, the link might not seem so obvious, but he actually had a profound effect on another giant’s writing: Murakami Haruki, author of international bestsellers like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and A Wild Sheep Chase and, more up Carver’s alley, short story collections like The Elephant Vanishes. Today, there’s even a Japanese professor named Hosea Hirata who teaches a course on the subject and the correlation between the two authors.

For those not in the know, and as his go-to translator Jay Rubin wrote about in Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Murakami used to very much enjoy his Suntory time, maybe not as much as Carver liked his booze, but the two connected early in the Japanese writer’s career, when he was just trying to get a foot in the door with the whole translation thing. In fact, as Rubin documents in detail, another American literary great, John Irving, whom Murakami went jogging with in Central Park to earn Garp’s trust (which he did after proclaiming his admiration of Setting Free the Bears – ouch!), represented one more of Murakami’s earliest inroads to the country’s literary establishment.

That said, I like what brother James had to say at the end of his short piece, as it sums up not only his relationship with his brother, but many of our own relationships with a lot of the people whom we love:

“I miss my brother very much. I loved him and respected him enormously…We can’t really get inside the other person’s mind to see how it ticks; we can never know the true feelings one may have for another. We can only be guided by the things said and the feelings shown to us by the other person, and believe it to be true. Ray captured the complexity of those relationships, in love or outside of love.”

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