"The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle": English vs. Russian translation?
February 24, 2017 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I recently started reading "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami in English and I'm quite enjoying it. However, I learned that the English version — although well-translated — omits several whole chapters from the original! I also happen to speak Russian, and I discovered that there's a Russian version by Sergei and Ivan Logachev which is apparently translated from the original Japanese. (The page count seems to confirm this: 600 for English vs. 770 for Russian.) However, I could find no information about the quality of this translation. Would anyone happen to know whether the Russian version is a high quality translation, and if so, if it's worth reading over the English version on account of the additional content?
posted by archagon to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Murakami writes and speaks fluent English, and is well known as a translator of English literature to Japanese. Translation is an awkward thing, but the English translation is probably the most researched and edited one by his long time literary translator.
posted by demons in the base at 5:41 PM on February 24, 2017

> the English translation is probably the most researched and edited one by his long time literary translator.

No doubt, but if it's missing a lot of text that's a huge problem (and the publisher should be ashamed).
posted by languagehat at 5:49 PM on February 24, 2017

I should mention that since posting this question, I've discovered that Sergei and Ivan Logachev were in attendance at a 2006 symposium titled "A Wild Haruki Chase: How the World Is Reading and Translating Murakami". (Credit goes to an article titled "Mistranslating Murakami".) Sergei is described as follows:
Serguei Ivanovich Logatchev was born in Moscow in 1953. He graduated from Moscow State University, Institute of Asian and African Studies in 1976. He was TASS news agency correspondent in Tokyo 1979-86. He wrote many hundreds of articles on different sides of Japanese life and obtained unique experience of translation of speeches and articles of Japan Communist Party leaders.

He is a member of the Translators Union of Russia, and the translator of Nejimaki dori kuronikuru( The Wind-up Bird Chronicle), Kokkyo no minami, taiyo no nishi (South of the Boarder, West of the Sun), Umibe no kafuka (Kafka on the Shore).
Clearly no amateur! So I suppose that's a point in favor of the Russian translation. Also, from a cursory listen to the audiobook version, it seems very similar in tone and pacing to the English version.

Hmm, maybe I'll just have to read them both... or just the missing chapters in Russian, if I can diff the two editions cleanly enough.
posted by archagon at 5:49 PM on February 24, 2017

I do not know about the Russian, but I do know:
1. The English translation is by a respected Murakami translator, so you should trust it.
2. English translations of modern Japanese novels are likely to leave a lot out. English publishers edit novels to be tighter than Japanese publishers. A lot of what is untranslated in the Japanese version is stuff that was seen as cruft by Rubin and the publisher, because they thought an English speaking audience would perceive it that way.
3. The Russian version may have less cut out, or it may just have different things cut out to appeal to Russians. Considering that there's political stuff concerning Russia in the novel, I wouldn't necessarily trust it to be a more faithful translation.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:50 PM on February 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

> A lot of what is untranslated in the Japanese version is stuff that was seen as cruft by Rubin and the publisher, because they thought an English speaking audience would perceive it that way.

Or just because they felt lazy or wanted to cut the size or who knows why? Virtually every long book I've read in Russian and checked a translation of has had large chunks omitted for no obvious reason, from Goncharov's Frigate "Pallada" to Grossman's Life and Fate. I think reading both is an excellent solution; it will give a stereoscopic view.
posted by languagehat at 6:52 AM on February 25, 2017

Regarding the English translation, this article (linked from the Wikipedia page for the book) provides detail on what was omitted as well as the author's stance. (Although I didn't read the plot details on account of spoilers.)
According to Rubin, Alfred A. Knopf, the translation’s U.S. publisher, “insisted on a work that was significantly shorter than the original.” Rubin translated the entire novel, then made cuts “rather than let a random editor do the job.” Murakami’s German publisher DuMont noted that “a chronological leap between Books Two and Three was done away with, as a result of which an entirely new work was created.” Rubin called such claims “overstatement,” and has said, “We are not talking about huge textual differences between the Japanese original and the English translation.” He has said, “The amount of ‘adapting’ I did was small in the overall context,” but that “it turned out to be a much more complex process than I had imagined.” Indeed, the sixty-one pages comprise less than 5% of the novel, but the deletions and alterations are many and complicated. Rubin writes, “I undoubtedly destroyed the chaotic, fragmented impression of the original Book Three, but I was not persuaded it was meant to be as chaotic as I found it to be. I can be blamed for having rendered that section more conventional, but I’m not convinced that that was a great artistic loss.” ... One of the missing chapters is the transition between Books 2 and 3, and Rubin has said, “I suppose that very tightness [of the transition] can be viewed as a distortion of the original, an Americanization of a Japanese work of art.”
So it's more than just a few omitted chapters. Parts of the book are very different from the original.
Murakami has said that he considers his writing in Japanese a process of translation and translation itself a kind of criticism, and that he never re-reads his works in Japanese. He seems to consider details secondary to the gestalt of a work in translation. In 1996, Murakami wrote, “By having a work converted into another language by someone else’s hand, I can look back and reconsider it from a respectable distance and enjoy it coolly as a quasi-outsider, as it were, whereas I never would have read it again if it had remained only in Japanese. ... One may say, then, that I might as well write in a foreign language from the start. But this is not easily done, for reasons of skill and capability. That may be why, in my own way, I have tried to write my novels using prose that I have constructed by first converting Japanese, my mother tongue, into a mock foreign language in my head—that is, by clearing away the innate everydayness of language that lies in my self-consciousness ... Seen in that light, my process of creative writing may closely correspond to the process of translation—or rather, in some respects they may be two sides of the same coin.”
If we are to believe Murakami, his works might be particularly good candidates for translation given his writing process.
If Murakami never rereads his novels in Japanese, it is unlikely he read Rubin’s translation very closely or paid much attention to what changes had been made, and he did not apply the changes to later printings of the Japanese.
However, it seems the English translation was never vetted very carefully by the author.
He also said that in contrast to Alfred Birnbaum, who is “kind of free as a translator” and “changes the prose sometimes,” he considers Jay Rubin “a very meticulous, precise translator.”
...but at least the translation is pretty accurate.
Rubin has said he has “occasionally suggested to Knopf that the time might be right for an uncut edition, but they have shown no interest in the idea,” and has said, “I do think, though, that if The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle outlives its time and becomes part of the canon fifty years from now, a re-translation will be needed, and scholars can have a fine time screaming about how Jay Rubin utterly butchered the text.”
Unfortunately, the publisher doesn't seem to care.
Concerning classics like The Catcher in the Rye, Murakami has said, “My basic stance is that for superb classics, there ought to be several different translations. Translation is not an act of creation, but only one form of technical response, so various different approaches should exist in tandem as a matter of course. People often use the word meiyaku [great translation], but that’s only another way of saying ‘one superb response.’ In principle, a peerless, perfect translation cannot exist, and even supposing one existed, in the long run it might have a detrimental effect on the original work. At least for works that are called ‘classics,’ there need to be several alternatives. Isn’t the most desired form of translation one in which several high-quality choices exist and through the accumulation of multiple aspects the true form of the original text arises naturally?”
It seems that Murakami plays no favorites with translations and believes it's a good idea to have a bunch of them around.

With that context, perhaps I'll just read the Russian version after all! 🙂
posted by archagon at 10:58 AM on February 25, 2017

It should also be noted that Murakami apparently re-edits his works quite frequently on re-publication and that more recent editions of the book have cuts in Japanese — though the cuts aren't the same as Rubin's.
posted by archagon at 11:07 AM on February 25, 2017

After reading all this, I would choose the Russian version.
posted by xammerboy at 2:56 PM on February 25, 2017

So far, I am enjoying the Russian audiobook very much. The translation seems sound and Igor Ilyin is a great narrator. However, in comparing Lieutenant Mamiya's letter (book 2, I think?) between the Russian and English versions, I noticed quite a few differences. I'd love to run the Japanese version of that letter through Google Translate and see which translation is closer to the original language, but I've been unable to find a digital Japanese copy anywhere on the internet! I think that letter in particular might be a good "Rosetta Stone" to check the quality of the translation, since it's both packed with detail and artful in its language. If I end up finding it, I'll be happy to provide a direct English translation of the Russian version so that people can draw their own conclusions.
posted by archagon at 12:58 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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