Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading Murakami's 1Q84

I've begun one of my Christmas presents, Haruki Murakami's massive (925-page) "international best seller," 1Q84. I'm not going to say much because (a) I'm only 170 pages into it; (b) it has been reviewed and commented on extensively. Having said that, I'll now say something.

1Q84 was published in Japan in three separate volumes and I'd read that Knopf hired two translators to produce the English edition in one volume. In the first books, the point of view of each chapter alternates regularly between Aomame, a 29-year-old woman who appears to be on a mission to rid Japan of men who abuse their wives, and Tengo, an aspiring novelist who becomes involved in a plan to anonymously rewrite a young woman's novel.

One of the challenges of writing from alternate points of view is to make each character's perceptions, thoughts, dialogue, and personality clearly individual. Ideally (I think), the author should not have to identify in a chapter headnote from whose point of view the chapter is being told. I'm sensitive to this issue because I'm attempting to individualize three characters in my current work in progress. Barbara Kingsolver does this brilliantly in The Poisonwood Bible. I thought that a neat way to accomplish this almost without trying in 1Q84 would be to assign the Aomame chapters to one translator, the Tengo chapters to another.

The publisher didn't do that. Jay Rubin, who has written an entire book about Murakami (Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Harvill Press, 2002; another wonderful book by the way), translated the first two books of 1Q84. Philip Gabriel translated book three. I suspect they flow seamlessly (I'll let you know). And thank goodness Rubin and Gabriel did translate because otherwise we who do not read Japanese easily would not have the pleasure of Murakami's imagination and company.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you enjoyed the book, it is quite lengthy! I didn't know that the translators worked on the different books like that, but I did mention in my review the fact that it was originally published in Japan in 3 separate volumes.