Of all the novels, Kafka on the Shore essentially stands apart as well as carries the themes from Murakami’s other work. Global readers of this novel find its echoes in Murakami’sThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicleand Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Why begin the first Bengali translation with Kafka on the Shore and not his first novel Hear the Wind Sing, which is yet to be translated in English outside Japan?
Since nearly a decade back I have been feeling somewhat dissatisfied with the trends in the Bengali literature. A kind of stagnation is clearly noticeable in terms of both contents and its narratives! Several reasons can be cited to explain this but a change in the nature of the expectations of the fiction readers, it appeared to me, is the most urgent necessity. Translation of significant works of world literature is a somewhat neglected area among the various literary activities, and to instil some more vitality into the sphere of Bengali literature, recent works that have made much impact world over must be brought to the literature enthusiasts of Bengal. From that angle I expect Kafka on the Shore to be an overwhelming experience to those local readers who for some reasons keep their choices confined to Bengali translations only. Frankly speaking, I expect it to jolt them to a certain extent out of the placid habit of limited narratives as are commonly available.
The escape from the age old modernist model of time, the message of unity of souls and a new meaning of existence through connectivity, all these are likely to be exciting and food for contemplation to the local readers.
This is the first time Murakami’s novel will be read in an Indian language. Do you feel burdened by any special expectation since this is the first translator of the author in the country? Do you eventually plan to translate his Rat Trilogy into Bengali as the English version of the novel is beyond the reach of non-Japanese readers?
Murakami’s language and narration style comprehensively take care of all these areas where the uneasiness or even struggle with the little known (as Japanese literature is to an average Bengali reader) blocks the path of the pleasure of reading and even appreciation. His close acquaintance with nearly every field of western civilization has helped him remove even the slightest hurdle to sufficient identification by readers world over;the sale figures when translated in about 50 languages amply prove his success in this regard. I have already translated a few of his more famous short stories for some of my friends and the spontaneity with which all of them have responded to those stories dispels all my doubts about the success of the novel in translation.
The book in two parts contains nearly 700 pages and I dare not think anything beyond this task at this moment. Once Murakami’s novel gets a good appreciation here it may enthuse other translators in taking up other works.
As somebody who has dealt with different languages and styles of writing, where do you place yourself as a reader of Murakami’s novels and now as his translator? Which are the books of Murakami that you would suggest a new reader to begin with, and why?
In one word, Murakami is unique. At least in his style. I am not particularly interested in trying to compare anything with his kind of novels. Philosophically and in respect of certain values his writing is definitely a continuation of the tradition of Japanese fiction handed over to his generation by the likes of Kawabata Yasunari and Mishima Yukio. But Murakami decided from the very beginning to avoid crowding his fiction with things typically Japanese. Predictably to reach out to the readers elsewhere relieving them of the baggage of prejudices, if any, they are made to carry by any dependence on the western outlook.
One can start with any novel, I myself started with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. But, for the most effective introduction, I would always suggest his short story collection The Elephant Vanishes to any Murakami beginner. Each of the issues in all those stories have been incorporated into the overall scheme of ‘Kafka on the Shore’ though the story line hardly anywhere bears any semblance with any of the stories. The stories in that collection considerably initiate the beginner in understanding what Murakami actually seeks to write about.
Murakami, in his novels constantly refers to music from jazz and Western classical tradition. Kafka on the shore basically derives its name from the piece of music Miss Saeki composes. How was the process of translating the lyrics from Japanese to Bangla?
I have not yet completed the translation. But the traditional lyrics in Japanese are usually open enough for the appreciation of even those not really initiated to the Japanese culture. Metaphors usually stand for very specific things and the origin of that characteristic dates back to the 8th century exchanges between China and Japan. But anyway, they are not very difficult to decode in order to feel the soul of the music.
Murakami had broken the tradition of “I” novel genre by using Boku in place of Watashi. While the flavour of I-Novel genre and the difference of impact in the use of Boku and Watashi is lost in English translation, can the I-novel genre and its specific form be retained in Bengali translation?
As I have already mentioned, Murakami avoids typicality of Japanese-ness. Watakushi – shosetsu, or the “I novels” have to place and present the “I” following all the rules an individual has to abide by to be heard in that society. That is out of question in Murakami’s novels. Murakami preaches the unity or inseparability of souls almost in the line of Vedanta. A prominent “I”, that facilitates detailed and opinionated observations in the narrative, does not fit Murakami’s philosophy. He highlights the importance of connectedness. Thus Murakami’s protagonist is a very inconspicuous, unobtrusive, informal, least assertive “I”, which fits ‘Boku’. Though in Bengali such subtle variations as formal, informal, modest, humble etc. are not grammatically needed, handling the tone of a sentence that features ‘Boku’ is not always very difficult, given the other details of the situation.
In both his short stories and novels, Murakami plays with the theme of parallel or alternate universes. While his Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border and West of the Sun hint at them subtly, 1Q84is clearly set in an alternate-universe of 1984; on the other hand, Kafka on the Shore deals with an alternate frozen time zone. There is yet another structural aberration we notice in Kafka on the shore.The short story Birthday Girl and novels including Sputnik Sweetheart, Norwegian Wood among others end in an unsettled, open-ended manner. In contrast, Kafka on the Shore gives various possibilities for its characters; yet still manages to presents a conclusive ending. Would you like to comment on the recurring themes of the parallel universe, and share with us any other distinctive character you have come across in your reading of the text?
I think these parallel universes are the parallel possibilities based on Monk Asanga’s theory of instants in time. By that theory, every moment in time a new universe is being created. Time is an integral thing without any true scope of a ‘future’ or a ‘past’, like a giant rotating wheel. Every slice of time is an instant and every such instant is giving birth to a new universe. The ideas conceived, knowledge gathered, the emotions felt etc. of the preceding instant perfume the next instant and its universe. This idea is very close to our idea of KARMA. Little people, as in 1Q84, are relentlessly giving shape to all the possible worlds following their own rhythm. Depending upon what one has done, thought, imagined, one’s universe is decided and little people push the carriage along the appropriate track to send one to that universe. Parallel universes are parallel possibilities as destination. But all this is from a view point of an individual’s life. The giant wheel of time is behind the idea of inseparability of times and thus the transposition of times in Kafka on the Shore was possible.
Like Mishima, Murakami too believes that the world of our perception is just an apparent world and there are several things happening beyond our limited observation, and those connect our lives too. The mystic view of the universe as a singular entity with myriad inextricably connected forms serves as an illusion. The Chance Traveller is one such story that hints at the unseen connections below the layer of apparent reality. The “I” in that story is fascinating as Murakami is clearly identifying with the protagonist of the story! The story of the Birthday Girl is actually more about the forms and formless in human life—the impossibility of establishing a materialistic cause-effect sequence determining the outcome of a life. Even after a long gap of several years the birthday girl could not decide whether the birthday gift materialized or not! The distinctive characters in Murakami’s fiction are really too many!
Kafka on the Shore is a book of riddles: According to Murakami it needs to be reread to understand the ending while many of Murakami’s fans believe this book should be read only when he or she is familiar with Murakami. Has the process of translating and keeping the authorial intent been a challenging procedure so far?
To me there are clear messages from the novel.I have my own impression of what it is all about and till now I have not found any portion that strays into some unknown, incomprehensible territory. Hence, as yet, no considerable difficulty in translating it.
Murakami has constantly been criticised for representing a “westernised” view of Japan. Do you consider him a representative voice of Japanese literature?
As I have already mentioned, Murakami’s priority is to reach the readers at all corners of the world. He has things to tell the world and though he has acquired those ideas as a Japanese, he does not think it necessary that the ideas should be narrated maintaining the same milieu or making the same references. The best narrative should then be the ones the world does not feel difficult to follow due to lack of familiarity with Japan. But in many respect Murakami is very much a continuation of Kobo Abe, Mishima and Kawabata. He has succeeded in bridging many of the gaps that perhaps stood between the world of Japanese fiction and the general readers outside Japan. Courtesy Murakami, the readers are now eager to receive the Japanese perception of the crises of the time, Japan is no longer The Face of a Stranger.
As for the ‘representative voices’ of literature, my opinion is that there should not be any chair for such a thing! Representation itself is a continuously changing aspect of any object, there is a famous novel,Hakase no ai shita sushiki by Ogawa Yokoon this. No two writers are writing on similar themes in Japan today, everybody is trying to express different aspects, I consider all of them to be equally representative of whatever the idea of literature stands for.
Have you discovered any tonal overlapping between Murakami and Franz Kafka, or noticed any thematic similarity between Kafka on the shore and The Metamorphosis?
Not as yet! Murakami has often spoken about Kafka’s influence. A dedicated scrutiny may reveal tonal overlapping at places, in fact, I even expect that. But I have not particularly identified any portion in the novel.
My understanding of the novel Kafka on the Shore does not identify any thematic similarity between Metamorphosis and this novel.
There are times when what is normal in the source culture seems unfitting and alien in the target culture. In such cases, translators often come up with cultural parallels. Have you yet faced such a challenge?
In the post-modern world even the target culture is not monolithic! With the heightened scale of media coverage, flow of information and even scope for migratory workers, source cultures are no longer entirely unknown to target cultures, at least to a section of it. Murakami’s success is particularly in this field of bridging the gap between the cultures. Many analysts hold that Murakami is actually a product of the global ‘information explosion’ of the eighties. He has capitalized on this phenomenon to the best possible degree. I am yet to finish the translation but have already read it. I am not really worried about finding a suitable cultural parallel if ever needed. Perhaps such a need will not arise.