A fascinating evening yesterday in Brighton at New Writing South for the launch of the latest issue of Granta magazine issue 127, Japan, published simultaneously in English and Japanese. Two of the contributors, Yukiko Motoya and Hiromi Kawakami, read extracts of their work in Japanese, and their translators then read the same passages in English.
I know absolutely no Japanese but there was something beautiful and magical about hearing it spoken, words running over you like music, for the listener to make of it whatever they wished. Yukiko read from a mysterious short story called ‘The Dogs’, and when questioned about the open ending she admitted she didn’t necessarily know what the story really meant. She also talked about her writing process as being rather like two rivers – one herself, her life, and the other the writing (or ‘the muse’ I suppose); the rivers sometimes flowed very close to each other, and that was the time when she was able to cross over into the writing, to step into it, but at other times, the ‘writing river’ was a long way away from her. I really liked this description, it made complete sense in that writing poetry feels like that too. And the idea that you can’t force the rivers together, but when the moment is there, you have to recognise it and grab it.
Hiromi read from her essay ‘Blue Moon’, about her experience of reading haiku in Moscow, a very moving piece, and this then set the discussion going about the issues (or not) of translation, and whether ‘all translation is mistranslation.’
Not only was everything being translated during the evening, but we had questions from the floor in Japanese also. By the end of it I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and re-ignite my lapsed Granta subscription. The cover is beautiful:
… and if you think there’s something slightly other-worldly about the image of the mountain, you’re right – it’s actually made of tin foil. Not everything is what it seems, eh?