Polish Translator Anna Zielińska-Elliott on Haruki Murakami

In News by Dennis Abrams

From the Christian Science Monitor: Translator Anna Zielińska-Elliott’s specialty in Murakami began with ‘something really universal’ in his work.

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Sentence by Sentence
AAt the Christian Science Monitor, Jingnan Peng reports on the popularity of Japan’s Haruki Murakami in Poland and the translator who interprets his work for Polish readers.

“When Haruki Murakami’s 13th novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, was released in Poland,” Peng writes, “Polish readers didn’t necessarily need to go to bookstores to find a copy. Instead, in three Polish cities, Japanese-style vending machines were installed, offering hot-off-the-press copies of the novel,” as part of a public relations campaign for the book.

Anna Zielińska-Elliott

One of the translators behind Poles’ high regard for Murakami’s work is Anna Zielińska-Elliott, a professor of Japanese literature at Boston University who’s translating her 12th Murakami novel into Polish—his newest, Killing Commendatore.

Peng writes that after translating Murakami for three decades, Zielińska-Elliott says that she “feels as if she can hear him speaking in Polish as she reads the Japanese…With this new book she is also trying a new method: Instead of reading through the text first, she is rendering it sentence by sentence as she reads.”

Working this way, she tells him, is “a more exciting experience. I don’t know what’s coming on the next page.”

Raised in Poland, Zielińska-Elliott came to the United States in 1993. But her role in introducing Polish readers to Murakami began several years before that.

She holds an MA and PhD from the University of Warsaw and an MA from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. In 1987, while studying linguistics in Japan, her instructor gave her Murakami’s short story “Her Little Dog Underground.”

She was, Peng writes, “struck by an aspect of the writing that is perhaps central to Murakami’s global appeal: ‘While it was very clearly set in Japan, there were no visible markers of Japan. No Japanese names, no Japanese food. There was something really universal about it, and I thought I’d try to translate it and see how it would feel.’”

Encouraged by friends’ reactions, she tried her hand at translating Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. Publishers were reluctant to publish the then-unknown Murakami in Poland, and while one publisher did express interest, the copyright fee was more than it was able to pay.

Zielińska-Elliott is quoted by Peng, saying, “This was a few years after the USSR collapsed. The economy was in shambles. So I wrote a letter to Murakami. I wrote about the situation of a Polish intellectual who wants to buy books but can’t afford them. Later, [Murakami’s wife, Yoko] called me. She quoted a really small amount, and I said: ‘Oh, yeah! That’s fine. I can pay it myself.’”

The work was released in Poland in 1995, and won an award for a debut translation.

Another Polish publisher, Muza, commissioned her to translate multiple novels by Murakami, all to be released at once.


The complete article by Jingnan Peng with Anna Zielińska-Elliott at the Christian Science Monitor is here.

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.