Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lost in translation (Food Dept.).

It's hard to read the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's dislocating novels without occasionally wondering what's lost in translation. . . . On Murakami's Web site, you can read an e-mail exchange between a few of his translators; they discuss the joy and heartbreak of getting his work into English. Food seems to be a special problem. Jay Rubin writes: "In general, the Japanese have a far more sensitive and sophisticated awareness regarding food than most Americans. ... So when a Murakami character makes himself an egg salad sandwich, Japanese readers are going to feel something a little different from what American readers are going to feel about it. There is no way to convey the cultural context regarding that sandwich in a translation, except perhaps through some scholarly footnotes." (That must be some egg salad sandwich!) Another Murakami translator, Philip Gabriel, writes that when he was working on Murakami's novel "Sputnick Sweetheart," he had to deal with a scene in which a character was eating a "Mont Blanc" in a Tokyo cafe. "I originally just left this as 'Mont Blanc,'" Gabriel writes, "but Murakami was worried that people in the West would think she was eating an expensive fountain pen instead of a type of cake, so we decided to make it a generic 'cake' instead." A Japanese Mont Blance cake, by the way, is usually topped with sweet chestnut cream extruded to resemble noodles. . . .
TBR: Inside the List, New York Times Book Review 22 (June 10, 2007).

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