6 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Tananaugh Espinoza on Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru, which is translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich and available from Counterpoint.

Tananaugh Espinoza was a student in my “World Literature & Translation” class this past spring. She graduated in May with a degree in Japanese and a certificate in literary translation.

Manazuru was a book that I used in the class, and which enabled to have a fascinating Skype session with super-translator Michael Emmerich. It’s a strange novel—to say the least—one that jumps between reality and memories within a sentence, and which features ghosts, etc. Michael did an amazing job translating this, capturing the oddness of the prose and punctuation in a way that’s poetic, dreamlike, and fun to read.

Anyway, here’s the opening of Tana’s review:

Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru is the carefully crafted story of Kei, and her lingering attachment to the husband who disappeared 12 years earlier. She travels to the titular seaside town, Manazuru, on a whim, feeling somehow that it is connected to her husband, Rei. Beset by a ghostly companion who seems to know something of his disappearance, troubled by the distance she feels toward her daughter, Momo, and her married lover, Seiji, Kei continues on a vague quest for answers and solidity. Although it is intensely personal and internal, Manazuru avoids becoming bogged down with introspection, just as Kei herself avoids it, by escaping into sequences of memory and of fantasy. These sequences, and the way they blend seamlessly in with present reality, are the crux of this novel’s appeal. Everything is rendered in strangely precise, matter-of-fact detail – whether memory, fantasy, or not – all of it blended into a single, tangible experience:

“In one corner of the quiet living room lay a few blocks, round and square, that Momo had been playing with that evening. The blocks were red, looked like things growing from the floor, and though I knew they meant nothing, they seemed to me like an ill omen. Rei. I called again. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was nine, and while every other time I had called him my voice, aimed into emptiness, simply vanished into emptiness, that evening I seemed to hear a voice in reply. Kei. I heard Rei’s voice, weakly, from the living-room ceiling.”

The tangibility of the red blocks, the reliability of the clock and its keeping of time, and the solidity of the memory lend their reality to the voice in the living room ceiling, despite the fact that it is the voice of a man who has completely disappeared. In moments like these the reader can fully appreciate the presence of Rei in Kei’s mind, and the way her life revolves still around him. She endlessly circles around him, like a leaf caught in the eddy around a rock. More

Click here to read the entire review.

6 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru is the carefully crafted story of Kei, and her lingering attachment to the husband who disappeared 12 years earlier. She travels to the titular seaside town, Manazuru, on a whim, feeling somehow that it is connected to her husband, Rei. Beset by a ghostly companion who seems to know something of his disappearance, troubled by the distance she feels toward her daughter, Momo, and her married lover, Seiji, Kei continues on a vague quest for answers and solidity. Although it is intensely personal and internal, Manazuru avoids becoming bogged down with introspection, just as Kei herself avoids it, by escaping into sequences of memory and of fantasy. These sequences, and the way they blend seamlessly in with present reality, are the crux of this novel’s appeal. Everything is rendered in strangely precise, matter-of-fact detail – whether memory, fantasy, or not – all of it blended into a single, tangible experience:

In one corner of the quiet living room lay a few blocks, round and square, that Momo had been playing with that evening. The blocks were red, looked like things growing from the floor, and though I knew they meant nothing, they seemed to me like an ill omen. Rei. I called again. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was nine, and while every other time I had called him my voice, aimed into emptiness, simply vanished into emptiness, that evening I seemed to hear a voice in reply. Kei. I heard Rei’s voice, weakly, from the living-room ceiling.

The tangibility of the red blocks, the reliability of the clock and its keeping of time, and the solidity of the memory lend their reality to the voice in the living room ceiling, despite the fact that it is the voice of a man who has completely disappeared. In moments like these the reader can fully appreciate the presence of Rei in Kei’s mind, and the way her life revolves still around him. She endlessly circles around him, like a leaf caught in the eddy around a rock.

Michael Emmerich’s translation captures this unsettling, restless atmosphere just as Kawakami rendered it, in slightly off word choice, slipping punctuation; he creates a voice that encourages trust with its precision and human irregularity, but offers an hint of its own unreliability through its quirks and a strange, elusive quality born of its slips between the past and present, the real and the imagined. The disjointed and fragmented sentences, cut up by periods or commas and matched with flowing paragraphs of description, provide a visual map of Kei’s mind. One of the most beautiful moments in the book takes place at a bus stop, at which the ten minutes which Kei spends waiting for a bus seem to bleed out endlessly, over pages and pages, with a different sense of time and space:

At some point, more herons came, there is one, now, on the roof of each house. Plodding through the houses, I think of the herons, beyond the ceilings, above the attics and crawl spaces, perched. The herons, unmoving, white, isolated lights in a dark, still scene.
I called, and Rei came.

Kei slides restlessly amongst the various realms of her mind, but despite its distortion, the moment she spends waiting for the bus is enjoyable; the voice and its maneuverings are familiar in their eerie strangeness. The voice which Emmerich creates allows the reader – with some careful reading – to move deftly between these slips of time and normalcy, instead of floundering confusedly in them.
Readers may find themselves feeling, as Kei feels, that they have an “inability to tell upstream from downstream, to perceive the direction the water was going.” All possibilities are considered in regards to Rei’s disappearance, and the cause of the ghostly presences that follow Kei, but none of these possibilities can be latched onto. The mysteries that arise, the distant, unstable relationships that Kei ponders, are never addressed to a conclusion. For some readers, this aspect of the novel will lead to a feeling of severe dissatisfaction. The novel provides what might be called the illusion of movement. Kei restlessly paces between her Tokyo home and Manazuru, and up the beaches. Her mind is even more active, panning smoothly and quickly between the scenes before her eyes and those scenes she remembers or imagines. However, Manazuru moves very little in terms of plot. Despite this possible frustration, Kei’s well-crafted voice and her unsettling, tangible-yet-dreamlike experience of life provides a soft, winding but vibrant read which can be enjoyed, if not for its deft solution to the mystery, for its thoughtful rendering and characterization of Kei, a 40-year-old woman still unable to right herself after the upset of her husband’s disappearance, caught up in the the passage of time but still, like the “tiny fish” she observes with the ghost woman, “swimming in circles, frantically.”

7 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Corridor of Dreams, which is the May issue of Words Without Borders, is now available online and focuses on contemporary Japanese literature. From translator and guest editor Allison Powell’s introduction:

Over the past several decades, a steady stream of fascinating writers from Japan have appeared in English, including two Nobel prize winners, Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe, as well as the now wildly popular Haruki Murakami. It may seem, however, that in recent years the stream has slowed to a trickle. Therefore, it has been my pleasure to act as guest editor for the Japan issue of Words Without Borders, and to have the opportunity to introduce new writing and new authors to WWB‘s audience.

The Japanese authors and works assembled here are not necessarily unified by any particular theme. I set out to showcase the robust variety of contemporary Japanese fiction, and I think these writers demonstrate just that, brilliantly. Most of the authors featured here have been writing for years and have well-established audiences in Japan. They have all been recognized with various literary awards and accolades, yet very little of their work has been published anywhere in English.

The point about how Japanese translations into English have “slowed to a trickle,” is absolutely true, although thanks to the Japanese Literature Publishing Project and Vertical, the situation is much better than it would be.

According to the Translation Database in 2008, 23 Japanese works made their way into English; so far in 2009, only 12. But of these 35 titles, 15 were published by Vertical—a press exclusively devoted to publishing Japanese literature, especially in the horror and thriller categories—and another 7 (at least) were funded by the JLPP—a program by which texts are selected, translated, and then offered to publishers. And if anyone publishes a JLPP book, the JLPP buys back a certain number of copies to send to libraries around the world.

Remove the JLPP influence and Vertical’s mandate, and you end up with only 13 Japanese titles coming out over the past two years. (Something similar happens to Arabic literature when you look beyond what the American University of Cairo Press is doing.)

Some of the fiction pieces included in this issue are: an excerpt from Sogil Yan’s Corridor of Dreams (translated by Linda Hoaglund), an excerpt from Kaho Nakayama’s Sentimental Education (translated by Allison Powell), and an excerpt from Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru (translated by Michael Emmerich).

And speaking of Michael Emmerich, he also has a short essay in this issue entitled “Beyond Between: Translation, Ghosts, Metaphors,” which opens with an bit about the meaning of the word “translation”:

In order for “translation” to have any meaning at all, it must be translatable into other languages; but the moment it is translated, it is swept up in a system of differentiations different from the one in which it is enmeshed in English—indeed, it doesn’t even have to be translated, because the word itself implies its own connectedness to these other systems of differentiation. Translation must be viewed as a node within which all the ideas of translation in all the languages there ever have been or could ever be might potentially congregate, intersect, mingle.

On top of all this, there are also reviews of Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut (winner of the 2009 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry) and Satoshi Azuchi’s Supermarket: A Novel (which is a JLPP book).

Very solid issue . . .

....
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