The other day, we posted a short piece about an exchange between Michael Emmerich and Daniela Hurezanu that took place on the Calque website and centered around a recent interview with Emmerich the striking differences between his unedited version of The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P and the version edited by Elmer Luke.
Thanks to the general awesomeness of St. Mark’s Bookshop I was able to pick up the most recent issue of Calque last night. And thanks to the boring, depersonalized nature of airports, I just had a chance to read this entire interview and versions of Emmerich’s translation of Matsuura Rieko’s novel.
First off, the edited version of the translation reads much better than the unedited one. The concerns Hurezanu expressed in her letter to Calque are completely valid—there are occasions when editors mutilate a translation to fit certain preconceived notions about the reader—but in this case, my personal feeling, and no offense to Emmerich, who is clearly one of the top Japanese translators working today, is that the edited version simply reads better. (For instance, “Roused from my slumbers by a barrage of knocks on the front door, it gradually dawned on me that an hour earlier I had agreed to have a talk with Kazumi, and I made a mad dash for the hall,” doesn’t read as well as “I was roused by a barrage of knocks on the door, and suddenly remembering Kazumi was coming over, I made a mad dash to the door.”)
And Emmerich’s description of this book makes it sound wonderfully perverse:
The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P is an unusual sort of masterpiece. Riveting, provocative, funny, disturbing, touching, verbose, explicit, and absurd, it was also a bestseller. I doubt anyone in the United States who can’t read Japanese even suspects that Japanese literature contains novels like this, or authors like Matsuura. A novel, that is to say, whose heroine has a penis on her foot and spends much of the book on the road with what amounts to a sexual freak show.
Aside from the excerpts though, the interview with Emmerich is simply amazing and totally worth the cover price. The opening section about Ukigumo—which is considered the “first modern Japanese novel”—is fascinating, since its author, Futabatei Shimei (which is a pseudonym and pun that reflects a Japanese phrase that translates as “drop dead”) translated Ivan Turgenev and was heavily influenced by Russian writers.
Futabatei also cites Dostoevsky and Goncharov as the stylistic models that helped him break out of the distinctly “early modern” written style and prose rhythms that dominate Part 1 of Ukigumo, and we know that when he was struggling with Parts 2 and 3, he sometimes wrote in Russian first, then translated his Russian into Japanese [. . .]
There’s a ton of things to quote from this interview, but my plane is boarding, so I’ll leave off with Michael’s response to a question of “what distinguishes a good translation from a poor one?”
The reader. This sounds like another dodge, I know. But that’s the best answer. Unless we’re talking about a particular translation, and considering it in relation to the context within which it came into being, trying to determine how well it meets the needs it was designed to meet. [. . .] We tend to assume, for instance, that readers who are able to compare a translation with the work that inspired it are best equipped—are perhaps the only ones equipped—to judge its merits. And yet translations aren’t designed to meet the needs of readers who . . . I can’t think how to say this without slipping into tautology . . . who don’t need a translation.
To tell the truth, I suspect that readers who can compare translations and originals actually tend to be worse judges of the quality of a translation than people who are unable to read the original. [. . .]
Of course, readers who can access both the original and the translation are able to find obvious mistakes, and that’s somethign only they can do, and that can be important. But surely that’s not what we mean when we ask what distinguishes good translations from bad? We’re interested in something that runs deeper, I would hope—not something so superficial that any old multilingual reader can come along and point it out after a hasty comparison of the two texts. [. . .]
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .