Sunday, September 19, 2010

translators who blazed the trail (2)

In 1991, OMF Books published an English translation of Yuki no Arubamu under the title A Heart of Winter. The translators were Mark Caprio and Clyde Moneyhun. They did a great job of it-- the translation makes for smooth reading. It is a slim, pocket-sized book, easy to give as a gift or carry around and read in spare moments. The copy on the back cover says: "This novel captures the depth of hurt and need for healing and wholeness... [it] illustrates, without maddening pat answers, that the bitter pain of abandonment, ridicule, betrayal and revenge need not be the final experience... Above all, this is a story of hope!"

Two months ago, one of my several attempts to contact the translators by email finally reached Mark Caprio, and I was able to ask him about his experience translating this book. This is part of what he shared with me:

We started out just looking for something to translate. Clyde and I had met at an Aikido dojo in Nagoya. By coincidence we had both studied at the University of Arizona in Tucson a few years prior to our meeting. I was an avid reader of Japanese literature at the time, making my way through Kawabata, Endo, Sono Ayako, and others.

Clyde was rather new to Japan, arriving after having completed studies in creative writing. I stumbled on Miura Ayako through a Brother George Pope. We were taught at Nanzan University and often talked over lunch about different things. I believe he mentioned Miura to me. Since he could not read Japanese I said that I would see if I could translate one of her books. Both Clyde and I were after the experience of completing a translation anyway.
I remember that it was Hyoten that I first read. The story moved me to the extent of wanting to translate it. I wrote Miura asking for permission and she answered by saying that it was already being translated. Flattered that she had even answered my letter, I decided to press my luck and ask her to suggest a book to translate. She recommended her latest book, Yuki no Arubamu [album of snow]. I read it and talked with Clyde about it. We decided to translate it.

Our division of labor broke down as follows: I put her words into English, Clyde molded my crude English into prose, and I checked to ensure that his writing honored Miura's original Japanese. We had been given us a deadline--which I believe we just missed--and a contact in Tokyo who would check our work. She also had a second person, a native English speaker, in Sapporo read our manuscript.
After passing the above checks we had to find a publisher. We tried Tuttle [but they turned it down] . Miura's Tokyo agent then recommended we try OMF based in Singapore [who agreed to publish it].

Unfortunately, A Heart of Winter is out of print. But like other out-of-print English translations of Miura's works, it can sometimes be found for sale on online used-book sites, so I encourage you to look for it if you don't already have a copy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

translators who blazed the trail (1)

The first book by Miura Ayako that I ever read in English translation was The Wind is Howling (InterVarsity Press, 1977), an abridged translation of Michi ariki, the first in Miura's autobiographical trilogy that includes Michi ariki, Kono tsuchi no utsuwa o mo, and Hikari aru uchi ni.

I had been reading Miura's works in the original Japanese for some time by then, and was nurturing my own dream of becoming a professional translator. Totally impressed by the smooth and authentic readability of The Wind is Howling, I immediately became curious about the translator, Valerie Griffiths. But it wasn't until recently (over thirty years later!) that I made an effort to contact her, and even in the age of the internet, this wasn't easy. Finally, one of my email queries reached her, and I was honored to receive a reply from Valerie herself! What a thrill this was!

I'd like to share a little of what Valerie told me about how she came to translate Michi ariki:

My husband and I served in Japan with OMF from 1958-1967 when OMF asked us to move to our international HQ in Singapore. [...] While in Singapore we began to hear about Mrs. Miura and when I started a small lending library of Japanese books I included hers. I had never achieved the 1800 kanji for reading. When a Japanese child was dying I lent some books to his parents who were spending all their time at the hospital. His father got engrossed in Michi ariki and began relaying the story to me. I felt it was much more effective to translate a book like that than to write English books about Japan so I started translating in my spare time.

Valerie went on to say how the limitations of her Japanese reading ability made the task time-consuming and arduous. But with the help of a friend who offered to write reading clues next to the harder kanji, she managed to complete the translation. That was the only Miura book she ever translated, and she says she could never do it again. But I --along with many other Miura fans-- will always be thankful that she did this wonderful work.

The Wind is Howling is out-of-print, but can sometimes be found for sale through online used book shops. Keep searching, and you may uncover this treasure yet.