Haruki Murakami’s much anticipated IQ84 is out this week. We caught up with Jay Rubin, Murakami’s longtime translator, to find out the pleasures (no cognates!) and pains (trembling hands!) of his trade.
How did you come to Murakami?
Back in 1989, an American publisher asked me to read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World for an opinion on whether they should publish a translation. I went crazy over the book, said, “Yes, by all means!” But they passed, and I spent the next decade reading only Murakami.
Does translating from Japanese to English present peculiar challenges?
One is freer in translating from Japanese than from Western languages because there are no cognates or other familiar guideposts to which one feels constrained to adhere. It’s more like creating the text from scratch rather than transferring phrases and sentences from one language into another, probably more fun.
Has his style changed? Has your “style” of translation changed?
His style is more formal than in his earlier, crazier pieces. Meanwhile, I’ve probably loosened up somewhat over the years and taken a freer approach.
This latest is a collaborative effort—how did you and Philip Gabriel work together?
Phil started book three around the time I was starting book two, so he had seen my book one and knew about a lot of the choices I had made. For the most part, he stuck with them, but sometimes he came up with better solutions and mine were changed to match his. The editor, Lexy Bloom, did all the hard work of imposing consistency on the whole.
Do you work at all with Murakami as you proceed?
I ask him questions by e-mail now and then, and he responds in a timely fashion; 75% of the time he answers, “Do whatever works in English.” He wants the book to succeed as literature in the target language rather than slavishly adhering to his grammar or sentence structure. He’s a very experienced translator, after all.
Did any sections of IQ84 present particular difficulties?
I’m especially fond of the scene in which the female protagonist pours ketchup in a guy’s sock drawer. The main problem was to keep from laughing too hard to type.