Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Translation

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Eighteenth century Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa wrote, "What a strange thing! To be alive, under cherry blossoms." I felt the strangeness of things this month, too, when I put out a call for books in translation and received suggestions all translated from Japanese even as I was reading a Haruki Murakami book myself. 1Q84 has made me think often about the process of translation, which is strange in and of itself because, more often than not, the gift of a great translator is that they are heard and not seen. There are many titles I would not have read had it not been for translators (a quick glance at my bookshelf reveals translated works by Ryszard Kapuscinksi, Laura Restrepo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Csezlaw Milosz) and yet translators are, by the nature of their work, asked to toil and then step aside to allow seemingly unfettered communication to take place between writer and reader. Murakami's latest tome (a surrealist story about alternate realities, childhood crushes, cults, and the publishing industry which, in the tradition of the great Japanese novelist centers around dynamic, specific, and quirky characters) required two translators to ensure it would be released to English readers in a timely fashion. To maintain consistency not just across the novel but between the two translators was surely no small feat. And yet, as a reader, I barely knew they were there. What a strange thing, one might say, to receive the gift of translated works. Below, two editors share more cherry blossoms.

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor, shares a collection in which each piece was translated by a different translator. "In March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown, edited by Elmer Luke and David Karashima, contemporary Japanese writers respond to the March 3, 2011 triple disaster that struck northeastern Japan via fiction, essays, and manga. Although many Western journalists have reported about the earthquake, tsunami, and on-going nuclear crisis, this book provides an intimate insider's view of events, as well as hope for the future. As a bonus, readers are introduced to some of Japan's most prominent young writers, some whose work appears here for the first time in translation. I also recommend Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction: An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories edited by Holly Thompson, which includes short fiction in translation by Japanese YA writers."

Four Worlds Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa shares, "The novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito) and Guardian of the Darkness: Moribito #2 by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano, follow a 30-year-old female bodyguard named Balsa as she faces earthly and supernatural threats in a fantastic ancient Japan. The two novels are categorized in the U.S. as young adult fantasy and earned nods two years running from the Mildred L. Batchelder Award committee, which recognizes publishers of excellent children's books in translation. They make bracing reads for adults too, with messages of perseverance amid trials delivered with healthy doses of martial arts action, described in gorgeous prose. Savor even the beautifully designed binding (in hardcover) of these swiftly paced stories."

Download the list to find it fast at your local bookstore or library.


Rhena Tantisunthorn received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2007. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter and is currently working on a book about her experiences working with Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border. You can find her blog here: Rhena Tan.


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