Non-profit literary organization

A Public Space is the new independent magazine of literature and culture, founded by Brigid Hughes, the former Executive Editor of The Paris Review. In an era that has relegated literature to the margins, they plan to make fiction and poetry the stars of a new conversation. The publisher believes that stories are how we make sense of our lives and how we learn about other lives. They believe that stories matter.

Four times a year, A Public Space brings readers a collection of new authors and established talents. Encouraging writers to get away from their desks and investigate what intrigues them, explore, snoop around. There are no boundaries, and they will support writers wherever they take them.


In the first installment of our Focus series, we turn our attention to Japan. Roland Kelts talks with Haruki Murakami and Motoyuki Shibata - Japan's preeminent translators of American fiction - and the journalist Riyo Niimoto about the novels that introduced them to America. How do the Japanese see Americans through their literature? Does The Catcher in the Rye read the same in Osaka as it does in Omaha? Plus, we include a survey of new Japanese fiction, with short stories from Yoko Ogawa, Masaya Nakahara and more.

Roland Kelts: Are the Japanese reading a lot of American fiction these days?
Haruki Murakami: Oh, it's popular now. It's strange. I think American writers have been very good over the past twenty years or so. When I was in my twenties, we had two camps - Barthelme and other postmodern writers; and the realists, like Updike. But starting in the eighties, we had a third stream writers like John Irving, Raymond Carver, Tim O'Brien. When I read Carver's stories, I was stunned.
RK: What stunned you about Carver?
HM: Nobody wrote stories like those. They went beyond common sense. I learned something from Raymond Carver about writing short stories. He always chose a simple vocabulary. He wrote straightforward stories, with a sense of humor, a crispness, and an unpredictable story line and very bleak endings. His stories are about everyday life. What he was saying by writing short stories is that you have to be intellectual when you write, but the subject matter doesn't have to be intellectual.
RK: What about the other authors you've translated. John Irving, for example. What did you learn from him?
HM: I learned something from John Irving about writing novels - that kind of powerful storytelling voice.
You know, in the old days, people would trace the writing in good books. Japanese people used to trace the pages of The Tale of Genji, for example. You can learn so many things from tracing. It's just like putting your feet into other people's shoes. Translation is the same thing.
RK: Do you learn from other translators too? Do you read Motoyuki Shibata's translations?
HM: Oh yes. I love his translations. But we have different tastes. Paul Auster, Steve Erickson, Stuart Dybek, and Steven Millhauser they're great writers, but I wouldn't translate their work. Which is good, because we have no conflicts.
I think Shibata likes more balanced fiction. It's not easy to explain. But whenever I read his translations, I find a very well-balanced literary world-symmetrical. Auster is a good example: It's like the music of J.S. Bach. It's kind of mathematical. You could say the same thing about Erickson or Millhauser. Those are wonderful worlds they're producing, but they are very rational. Sometimes things get crazy and chaotic, but seen from a distance, everything is rational and even stoic. I'm saying that in a complimentary way.
But with Carver and O'Brien, things get irrational sometimes. I guess I feel more comfortable when things are messy. I prefer that kind of world. But you know, I translated The Nuclear Age by Tim O'Brien. And every American I met said that's his worst book. But I just loved it. I told O'Brien when I met him, and he was so suspicious. He said: "You did? You really did?"
RK: As if you were the only one.
HM: That's right. But in Japan, many readers loved it. Sometimes I think American readers are missing something.


Post a Comment

Copyright 2006| Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger XNL by Blogcrowds and tuned by Bloom * Creative Network.
No part of the content of the blog may be reproduced without notice and the mention of its source and the associated link. Thank you.