Wednesday 24 June 2020

On Translationese (2020)

HERE is a short essay in The Paris Review by the writer Masatsugo Ono, about his early reading of two Japanese authors - Murakami and Oe, both of whom had styles that Japanese critics had called 'translationese'. It recounts how Murakami wrote his first novel in English, and then translated it into Japanese. In passing it tells of the wider influences that French, German, and English language writing (mainly American) has had on modern Japanese literature. 

"The next time I encountered those books was after I moved to Tokyo for university. I came across a large stack of them right by the entrance of one of the city’s largest bookstores. They were the two parts of Haruki Murakami’s novel Noruwei no mori (Norwegian Wood). I was already familiar with him as a master of short essays. My landlady had the bad (or good?) habit of reading books in the bathroom, and Murakami’s essays were among her favorites. One day, she handed me a collection she had finished. In these essays, he writes about literature and music and even cooking in such a natural way that it feels as though he’s addressing the reader personally. Something delightful and friendly in his style fascinated me (it’s a shame that those early essays of his haven’t been published in English). I couldn’t say how exactly, but I immediately felt that his style was different from other contemporary Japanese writers I had read. Probably because one of my professors (who was from Belgium) had translated it into French, A Wild Sheep Chase was the first of Murakami’s novels I read. And I soon found myself reading through them all".