A seam of superb Japanese detective novels and short stories have crossed the language barrier in recent years, teaching even the most culturally ignorant of us to tell our honkaku from our shin honkaku. And here to give us a sense of the work involved in making that happen is literary translator Louise Heal Kawai.
Louise will most likely be familiar to GAD fans as the translator of The Honjin Murders (1946, tr. 2019) by Seishi Yokomizo and Murder in the Crooked House (1982, tr. 2019) by Soji Shimada — both of which were released through Pushkin Vertigo in what we’re all hoping is an indication of more to come — and has been working as a Japanese-English translator for almost two decades on a range of novels, poetry, short stories, and more besides.
So, while her work on The Honjin Murders forms the backbone of this discussion, she also gives a glimpse into the rigours and difficulties of the translator’s art: how translators end up on particular projects, the artistic challenges of communicating culturally unfamiliar concepts, what can happen when words fall into obsolescence, why television dramas aren’t always the translator’s friend…and more, though I’d hate to give anything away.
As ever, a range of listening options await: you can open the audio in your browser here, find the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or listen below; as ever, I hope you enjoy it — oh, and apologies for the variable quality of my audio, it was a microphone problem that I think I’ve fixed now (though, really, you’re not here to listen to me, are you?).
Thanks are due to Louise for her time and efforts, to Jonny Berliner for the music, to you for listening, and to everyone who continues to contact me about getting involved in future episodes. This podcast is currently booked to continue up until about December at present, and beyond that…we’ll see.
The short story project that Louise mentions in which Japanese writers reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here, Louise can be found on Twitter here, and if you want to buy a copy of The Honjin Murders to help stimulate the possibility of future Japanese translations, well, here’s your chance.