After Rights Struggle, Murakami Permits Bengali Translation

In News by Dennis Abrams

The Bengali translator of “Kafka on the Shore” recounts the challenges of convincing Haruki Murakami and his minders to allow the translation.

By Dennis Abrams

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

At The Indian Express, Premankur Biswas examined the publisher and translator hard at work on the first authorized Indian-language version of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

It is in the offices of the Jadavpur University Press that Abhijit Mukherjee, professor at the department of electrical engineering, is working on the first authorized Bengali translation of Murakami’s bestselling novel.

But, as I’m sure you wondering, how exactly did an Indian professor of electrical engineering come to translate Murakami?

“I took to Japanese when I was in my 30s, I was already a lecturer at the engineering department here. I had an aptitude for languages, and soon I won a scholarship to visit Japan in 1997. A year later, I was offered the chance to teach at Kanazawa University in Ishikawa Prefecture,” Mukerhjee told the paper. And it was during his year there that he fell in love with Japanese culture. “They pursue aesthetics as a discipline. I find that fascinating.”

When he returned from Japan, he began trying his hand at translating Japanese fiction – one of the first of which was Murakami’s now classic short story, “The Elephant Vanishes.” And while Mukherjee had started translating as something to do as a hobby more or less, it was another Bengali writer, Nabarun Bhattacharya, who told him he needed to start doing it professionally. “Nabarunda published a magazine where he published my translation of Murakami’s short story. That’s when I realized the cadence of Murakami’s language lends itself well to translation. His references are universal, his writing is steeped in Western classical music. He also keeps referring to Western literary classics. So, a well-exposed Bengali reader can easily swoop into Murakami’s world,” Mukherjee said.

But despite experience in translating Murakami and his love of his work, getting the author’s approval to translate what many feel is his best novel wasn’t easy.

We had been emailing Murakami’s literary agents, Curtis Brown, since January this year, they were slow to reply.

Abhijit Gupta, director, JU Press, told the paper, “One would have thought that a person who has been translated into 50 languages wouldn’t care about just another translation. We had been emailing Murakami’s literary agents, Curtis Brown, since January this year, they were slow to reply. We were nervous because this is the first time Murakami is being translated officially into any Indian language.”

“The publishers, Vintage, informed us that Murakami would personally go through the resume of the translator before he gives his approval. Murakami is also particular about the cover of his books, even in translation.” And in fact, the decision was not finalized until Mukherjee made a personal visit to Curtis Brown’s offices in London.

And at nearly 615 pages, translating Kafka on the Shore is going to be a challenge. “Translating an English version is not an option,” Mukerhjee said. “I am translating it directly from Japanese.”

JU Press is anticipating a release in early 2016.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.