Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a literary translator? Or how to translate a text while maintaining the authenticity of the original one? We unpack that and so much more with today’s guest Jay Rubin.
Jay is a Japanese-English translator and novelist. Some of his most well-known translations are of the works of famous Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami. These translations of Haruki’s works include 1Q84, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, and Absolutely on Music. Recently, Jay curated and published an anthology of famous Japanese short stories titled, The Penguin Book Of Japanese Short Stories.
In our conversation, Jay takes us on a journey of how he discovered his love for the Japanese language and literature which led him to his passion of translating those works for others to enjoy. Further into the conversation, we talk about his process and how he overcomes the difficulty of translating two languages that are almost impossible to translate literally. We also go into detail about his new anthology of Japanese short stories, The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, and discuss the format of the book and how he chose the incredible stories to include.
Books and resources:
The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Girl from Ipanema 1963/1982 by Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
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Check out these highlights:
- Learn how Jay discovered his love for Japanese literature and how he came across the opportunity to become a literary translator (4:47 / 19:38)
- Understand the importance of visiting original texts to discover their true meaning (7:10)
- How Jay found his confidence and grasp of the complex Japanese language (10:46)
- The unpredictability of literary translating (21:18)
- Jay walks us through his translation process (22:50)
- Why Jay believes it’s crucial to read an entire story before beginning the translation process (23:29)
- How to approach translating two languages that are nearly impossible to translate literally (24:18)
- How Jay’s new book, The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, came together and how Jay carefully selected the stories in the book (28:40)
“I just assumed part of what I would be doing is translating and when I tried it, I enjoyed it. It was really that simple.”
“I think the unpredictability of translation is what I like. You confront a page of these funny squiggles and you can turn them into real English and the realer, the better.”
“Just the sheer process of absorbing what’s in the original text and then going from what’s in your brain to what you put on the page in English is an exciting process for me. It’s never stopped being exciting.”
“It’s the totally subjective process of immersing yourself in a text and making it come out in your own language that has always been the most appealing part of the work to me.”