How did a loner who seemed destined for a niche domestic Japanese audience become one of the most famous writers alive? A literary celebrity-in-the-making tale, its cast includes an expat trained in art history who never intended to become a translator; a Chinese American ex-academic who never planned to work as an editor; and other publishing professionals in New York, London, and Tokyo who together introduced a pop-inflected, unexpected Japanese voice to the wider reading world.
... a slim but fascinating new treatise by David Karashima on the business of bringing the best-selling novelist to a global audience ... Karashima leads his readers on a tour of translational tinkering ... For those interested in Murakami trivia, Karashima also includes publishing gossip ... Such anecdotes are as entertaining as they are illustrative of how sprawling the Murakami myth has become. Karashima, who confines his analysis to Murakami’s early work, notes that the way Murakami is understood is constantly changing. And maybe, as Murakami has requested, his early works will one day be made available in English unabridged. I wonder, though, whether what will most change our understanding of Murakami’s work is the next generation of Japanese writers being translated for a global audience.
Karashima communicated extensively with the principal actors in trying to trace the path of the various translations and publications, and it makes for a fascinating glimpse of how an author becomes established in a foreign language and market, including the compromises and choices made along the way. Among the amusing aspects of this strong reliance on first-hand accounts—Karashima quoting verbatim extensively—is that Karashima has no qualms presenting differing accounts, as well as showing his sources to often be uncertain in their recollection ... Karashima really spells this all out, taking the reader along for the ride through all these not-quite-mutually-compatible versions of events; and yes, there's quite a lot where his conversation-partners admit that maybe things happened differently than they remember. Much here is kind of hazy, at least on the individual level, but Karashima heaps so much on, from so many sides, that the overall picture looks to be a fairly solid one. Karashima leaves no stone unturned—and in fact turns many of them over and over, just to make sure—and, yes, that can seem a bit excessive at times; still, it's a welcome kind of information dump that allows the reader to see and judge for themselves just how reliable the picture is ... Karashima doesn't discuss the editing changes in quite as much depth as he might, but he helpfully does offer some examples which he considers more closely ... Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami does explore Murakami's work making its way into English well, and is particularly interesting in describing the significant roles of the translators and editors who were involved in the process ... Overall, it's a quite fascinating story—even as it also leaves many questions unanswered and, surprisingly for such a fact- and chronology-obsessed book, leaves quite a few almost blatant lacunae; a table consolidating book sales numbers would have been welcome, as would have one simply charting Murakami's publications (all those stories in The New Yorker, for one); indeed, detailed bibliographic charting and some timelines, or something similar, would have been helpful.
Karashima, a Japanese novelist, makes his English-language debut with this illuminating look at the 'Murakami phenomenon' ... Murakami fans will particularly revel in Karashima’s comprehensive coverage, but anyone curious about the alchemy and sheer amount of work that goes into making a single author’s success will be entranced by this fascinating work.