Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The translator's dilemma, Part V or so

A recent issue of The New York Review of Books has an interesting essay by Lydia Davis, "Eleven Pleasures of Translating." I responded to it because Davis is also an author and she talks about the relationship between translating an author's work and creating one's own: "in translation, you are writing, yes, but not only writing—you are also solving, or trying to solve, a set problem not of your own creation. The problem can't be evaded, as it can in your own writing, and it may haunt you later."

Which brings me to a sentence in a Japanese short story I am currently translating: 広くなったダイニングテーブルに新聞を広げ、それを読みながらゆっくりと食べている...

The situation: The protagonist's wife has gotten up early, fed their teen-age boys, sent them off to school, and has made her husband's breakfast. He has now gotten up and, according to this sentence he spreads out the newspaper on the dining table [ダイニングテーブルに新聞を広げ] and he reads it while slowly eating [それを読みながらゆっくりと食べている].

What I could not understand was that first clause in the sentence: 広くなった. It could be translated as "It got wider," but what? The table? And I translated the same character before the comma, 広げ, as "spread out," which makes sense. What could that first clause mean? Time to consult my native-speaking Japanese conversation partner.

The idea that 広くなった conveys to her is that the wife has cleared away the children's breakfast dishes so that her husband now has room to spread his newspaper over the dining table. There is a perfectly good word in Japanese that means "to clear away the dishes," but it has nothing to do with something growing wider or spreading out.

I know my Japanese is limited, but I cannot believe someone who is not a native speaker would understand the nuances of that opening clause. My translation reads, "She cleaned away the boys' breakfast dishes so he could spread out the newspaper on the dining table, and he slowly ate breakfast while reading it." Nothing about becoming wider.

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