Haruki Murakami Translates The Great Gatsby, the Novel That Influenced Him Most


Giv­en the promi­nence of “Gats­by” brand men’s hair prod­ucts over there, I can’t claim that F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s doomed lit­er­ary icon of the Amer­i­can Dream goes total­ly unrec­og­nized in Japan. But accord­ing to Haru­ki Muraka­mi, the coun­try’s best-known liv­ing nov­el­ist, “Japan­ese read­ers have nev­er tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed The Great Gats­by.” This he ascribes, in an essay (read it online here) from the new col­lec­tion In Trans­la­tion: Trans­la­tors on Their Work and What It Means, to the dat­ed­ness, despite the excel­lence, of most Japan­ese-lan­guage edi­tions of the book. “Although numer­ous lit­er­ary works might prop­er­ly be called ‘age­less,’ ” he explains, “no trans­la­tion belongs in that cat­e­go­ry. Trans­la­tion, after all, is a mat­ter of  lin­guis­tic tech­nique, which nat­u­ral­ly ages as the par­tic­u­lars of a lan­guage change. Thus, while there are undy­ing works, on prin­ci­ple there can be no undy­ing trans­la­tions.”

Hence his own trans­la­tion of Gats­by, a project he orig­i­nal­ly set for his six­ti­eth birth­day, by which time he hoped his “skill would have improved to the point where [he] could do the job prop­er­ly.” Despite start­ing the trans­la­tion years ahead of sched­ule, he found him­self just wise enough to under­stand the task’s com­plex­i­ty. “At strate­gic moments,” he remem­bers, “I brought my imag­i­na­tive pow­ers as a nov­el­ist into play. One by one, I dug up the slip­pery parts of Fitzgerald’s nov­el, those scat­tered places that had proved elu­sive, and asked myself, If I were the author, how would I have writ­ten this? Painstak­ing­ly, I exam­ined Gats­by’s sol­id trunk and branch­es and dis­sect­ed its beau­ti­ful leaves.” Asked why he chose to trans­late Gats­by, he gave this reply:

When some­one asks, “Which three books have meant the most to you?” I can answer with­out hav­ing to think: The Great Gats­by, Fyo­dor Dostoevsky’s The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov, and Ray­mond Chandler’s The Long Good­bye. All three have been indis­pens­able to me (both as a read­er and as a writer); yet if I were forced to select only one, I would unhesi­tat­ing­ly choose Gats­by.

(Thanks to Gal­l­ey­Cat.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In Search of Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Japan’s Great Post­mod­ernist Nov­el­ist

83 Years of Great Gats­by Book Cov­er Designs: A Pho­to Gallery

The Only Known Footage of the 1926 Film Adap­ta­tion of The Great Gats­by (Which F. Scott Fitzger­ald Hat­ed)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • teh yoshi says:

    Not sure where you got that pic­ture, but the text is in Chi­nese, not Japan­ese.


    I’ve heard many, includ­ing Gore Vidal on some intel­lec­tu­al (It just had to be, right?) inter­view that The Great Gats­by was the per­fect nov­el. I per­son­al­ly thought it a good read, but I must have real­ly missed the boat in regard to it’s pro­fun­di­ty. I need­n’t read any­one’s reviews as to why I should be awestruck. I can be like that myself, lik­ing some­thing, any­thing, so intense­ly that I just can’t believe that oth­er’s I may talk to are real­ly not that moved by the book, poem, paint­ing, etc. I can’t believe that any­one could be more influ­enced or effect­ed by The Great Gats­by (or any­thing else I’ve read to date) than Ull­y­ses. Are you kid­ding me?! No, they are not. To each his own.

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