Many people may not know this, but Haruki Murakami banged out yet another novel last month.
The book follows hot on the heels of his long-awaited "Kishidancho Goroshi" (Killing Commendatore) and involves a private eye heading to a lakeside town in search of the wife of the president of a perfume company.
Murakami didn’t come up with the plot or characters. The detective is none other than Philip Marlowe, and the original "The Lady in the Lake" was published by Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) in 1943.
Murakami has been moonlighting as a translator, and the publication of this story means he has converted all of Chandler’s seven novels into Japanese over the past decade.
Murakami, who turns 69 on Jan. 12, sat down with The Asahi Shimbun to discuss the work.
"There are certain parts of the work that are weak from the standpoint of a novel," he said. "That made me want to provide as much support as I could, so I earnestly added new elements to the work. I tried to provide a smoother progression to those parts that did not flow smoothly."
Murakami said the translations were not only an expression of his deep admiration for the Chicago-born writer, who is considered by some to be the father of the hard-boiled detective novel, but also an important wellspring of inspiration for his own novels.
Murakami has been reading Chandler's novels since he was in junior high school, so it's no surprise that his translation flows so smoothly.
"I just love Chandler's writing style, and he is one writer who has influenced me," Murakami said. "For that reason, there are only a very few instances when I am at a loss at understanding what he was trying to say. There are times when I even think that I am translating a part of (a work by) me."
The Marlowe novels are hugely popular in Japan, and Murakami is not the only one who has translated them.
The late Shunji Shimizu is among those who have published Japanese translations of Chandler's works.
"For outstanding works, there is a need to continue publishing new translations," Murakami said. "The original of such works never becomes outdated, but works from 50 years ago are destined to have the words of their translations become outdated no matter how good the translation may have been."
Murakami said he and Shimizu approach their translations from different directions, resulting in important differences in the final work.
"Shimizu translated the novels based on his knowledge of the hard-boiled mystery, so he skipped some parts to maintain a smooth flow to the translation," Murakami said. "I translated the works based on my knowledge of literary translation, and since I feel that Chandler's novels are semi-classics, I tried to translate even the minutest detail."
Murakami also gave the translation a different Japanese title from the one used by both Shimizu in his 1986 translation and the one used earlier by Komimasa Tanaka in his 1959 translation.
Murakami said thinking of a title was a difficult aspect of translating a work. He also used a different Japanese title than the one used by Shimizu for the translation of Chandler's "The Long Goodbye."
"Readers who were familiar with Shimizu's translation may have felt outrage that the new translation trampled on what they knew," Murakami said. "But there are also new readers, and I felt it was important to provide more choices."
He said reading Chandler taught him how to include a certain rhythm to his own writing.
"After a segment of witty conversation, he will have a part with detailed description, and he is really very effective in that almost unconscious interplay," Murakami said.
He also revealed that Chandler's works had influenced the writing of "Kishidancho Goroshi."
"Even as I was writing the description of the home in Odawara at the beginning of the novel, I felt it was like a landscape description that could be found in Chandler's novels," Murakami said. "I might have been especially conscious of Chandler in that first chapter."
Murakami describes translation as a process of tearing apart the original and then reassembling it into a new work.
"Chandler is the perfect model for tearing apart and rebuilding," Murakami said. "It would be difficult to write a mystery novel like Chandler. A novel depends on how it is taken apart. Something has to be learned from that process."
Murakami mentioned Kazuo Ishiguro, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in December, as another writer who tears apart and rebuilds.
Murakami said Ishiguro was rebuilding a style of certain novels with every new work--from a book about a British butler to a science-fiction novel.
"He also loves Chandler," Murakami said. "I have spoken to him on a number of occasions, but he really comes alive when talking about Chandler."
Murakami's novels often involve a wandering between a real and fantasy world. He explained that translation helped him in that sense because most of what he has done have been works rooted in realism.
"Even if I wanted to write about a nonrealistic situation, I would not be able to do so if I could not properly write in a realistic style," he said.
He said he wrote "Norwegian Wood" in a realistic style because he felt at that time that he needed to strengthen his writing style.
"I felt much more relaxed after that," Murakami said. "That is why for my translation I hold the feeling of wanting to further polish my writing by focusing on realistic works and to use it as a training process for bringing more tightness to my own writing."
One factor that is common to both his own novels and his translations is repeated rewriting.
"This may sound like a boastful claim, but in order to write in a lively style, there is a need for a subconscious redoing of the writing," Murakami said. "I truly feel that the writing will not jump out of the page unless I have allowed it to pass through my unconsciousness over a considerable period of time."
He added that it was difficult to assess the power of any writing.
"It is difficult in the same way that it is not easy to express the difference in the hot water used in the family bath and that found in a hot spring bath," Murakami said. "In order to bring out the power that can be found in the hot spring bath, it is important to spend a great deal of time to allow for the writing to pass through the subconscious a number of times. That is the same for both novels and translation."
(This article was written by Kan Kashiwazaki and Senior Staff Writer Chiaki Yoshimura.)