Crafting words with Osamu Dazai’s translator Allison Markin Powell

Two of the most successful Japanese novels of the past few years that have been translated into English are Hiromi Kawakami’s “The Briefcase” and Fuminori Nakamura’s “Last Winter, We Parted.” Both were translated by Allison Markin Powell, a literary translator and editor based in New York: The Japan Times

Translating, like writing, is a solitary job and interaction with the writer is limited. “For “Last Winter, We Parted” I had a handful of questions for Nakamura after the editing process, questions about the language or specific items that appear in the book that I may not understand or recognize,” she says. “But I’ve translated books by people such as Osamu Dazai. You can’t ask Dazai any questions. To be honest I don’t really see the author as more or less of an authority on their book from a translation perspective.”

Some writers would disagree.

Powell says that when Haruki Murakami’s novels are translated he works very closely with his English translators, checking their translations and making changes.

“I was at a film festival where they showed ‘Norwegian Wood’ and there was a Q&A with the director. He’s Vietnamese but he wrote the script in French. It was translated into English and Murakami vetted that and made all of these changes and it was sent back and translated into French and then everything went into Japanese.”

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