9 September 08 | Chad W. Post

The Japanese Literature Publishing Project recently updated their website to include a RSS feed, which, to me, is absolutely fantastic and essential. I live through my Google Reader, rarely checking in on sites that I don’t subscribe to. Now, it’s much, much easier to keep up with the JLPP folks, who are constantly added new content to their site, such as this interview with Michael Stein a Japanese-to-German translator, who recently translated Ichiyo Higuchi’s The Thirteenth Night and Other Stories (Jusan’ya) into German.

Stein’s interview is pretty interesting, including his bit about The Changelings, the first book he ever translated. In his words, it’s “a court novel by an unidentified author of the late Heian period. The protagonists are two siblings—the brother is raised to be a woman, and the sister a man.”

But what really caught my attention was this bit about what German readers like. By no means is this desire for strong plots restricted to Germany, but it does explain (in a partial way) why it seems like a lot of contemporary German literature has moved away from the experimental writings of people like Uwe Johnson:

What were some of the difficulties of trying to convey Meiji-period Japan to a German readership?

German readers tend to prefer stories with strong plots. Of Ichiyo’s works that have been translated into German, the most popular are “Trübe Wasser” (Troubled Waters/Nigorie), translated by Jürgen Berndt, and “Growing Up”/Takekurabe, which has been translated into German as “Die Liebe der kleinen Midori” by Oscar Benl and by me as “So lange sie ein Kind war.” Both these Ichiyo stories have clear storylines. In the same way, Germans most like those of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s works that are plot-driven and have significant events happening in them. The same holds for Haruki Murakami. Germans are quite big on adventure. But I personally also like works without strong narratives.

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