Tuesday, July 09, 2013


I had the opportunity to translate a 450-page novel this year, a task that was enlightening in many ways.  I suppose that unlike the amorphic time limits a writer places on himself while writing his own book, being contracted to work on someone else's work forces you to focus, and maintain that focus, over a specific period of time, in my own case three months.   

In the midst of this project, I somehow found time to read Murakami Haruki's book, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," and found a line that said something about writing a novel being like training for a marathon.  Day to day to day, it is imperative to keep up the roadwork. 

To me, translating the book felt like taking a long holiday with the author, with all the accompanying lows of boredom and frustration.  You find yourself living in the author's mind, seeing how things are put together, and eventually you can predict where he'll go with the story.  But when you find things that you disagree with or feel don't completely work,  you're not allowed to argue.  It was a struggle to keep my internal editor bound and gagged and tied up in the closet.

You also begin to grow close to all the characters, and miss them a little when you leave them behind. 

One curious side-effect is that a long translation project can serve as mindfulness training.  It takes a heightened sense of concentration to deconstruct a text word for word.  Where the process of writing creative writing is like watching the flow of a river, translation is like rearranging the rocks in the riverbed itself.

On the turntable:  Medeski, Scofield, Martin, "Out Louder"
On the nighttable:  Scott Berry "Monks, Spies and a Soldier of Fortune: The Japanese in Tibet" 

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