Amedama: Seia Tanabe

Amedama_TanabeIt can be weird at times, being a translator of a variety of books with a brain that is a battler of even more books. By day, I read books I might never have otherwise read and turn them into English for all the monolinguals, and by night, I read all the books I dream of bringing to all the monolinguals in English. Naturally, there is overlap between these two selves. Sometimes, the dream of translating a beloved book comes true (like my precious baby Magician A, coming to Kickstarter backers very soon and to select bookstores later this year!), and sometimes, I discover that a book I’m translating is a true beloved (I will never stop pushing After the Rain and Requiem of the Rose King on everyone who asks me what they should be reading; they are perfect and true books in their own beautiful ways). And sometimes, translating something leads me to picking up other work by the same author.

After translating a short story by Seia Tanabe years ago for the Haikasoru collection Phantasm Japan, I kept my eyes open for more from this author of quietly frightening stories based on Japanese ghost and folk tales, eventually stumbling across her novel Ningyo no Ishi, a book I still reflect on surprisingly often two years after finishing it. Her prose is so sparsely moody and yet strangely down to earth for the tales of the supernatural that she tells.

And I know I should be used to this by now because authors stumble across my posts here about their work surprisingly often (and let this be a lesson to those of you who would use a foreign language as a secret code to gossip about people on a crowded train or some other such public place—there is inevitably a speaker of that foreign language somewhere near you who understands every word you’re saying and will no doubt take the first opportunity that presents itself to publicly shame/embarrass you if you are talking any kind of smack about anyone), but a few months after I posted about that novel, Tanabe reached out to me to thank me for reviewing the book and offered to send me some of her other books. Which was a delightful surprise and kind as hell, and you know that I gratefully accepted. (Thank you, Tanabe-san!) Continue reading “Amedama: Seia Tanabe”

Chikyu Seijin: Sayaka Murata

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Let’s welcome in this new year with books, the best way to start a year, a month, a day—any moment in your life that needs starting! How about this book I translated and am producing with my pals over at the new press started by The Beguiling’s Peter Birkemoe?? Magician A is a wild ride through smutty town, a collection of stories that examine desire and capitalism and spirituality in ways you will never see coming. (No, that is not intended as a pun.) I know I have been hassling you about maybe backing the Kickstarter for the book, but I promise this will be the last time. Because the Kickstarter ends this week! So if you’ve been halfway persuaded by my previous sales pitches, maybe this will push you over the edge and you will buy my sweet translation baby?? It is worth it, I promise. (If you need more convincing, see my post about the book back when it came out in Japanese and was not yet even a dream in this translator’s eye.) There are stretch goals even. French flaps! Build a tiny book fort with fancy flaps! And a special interview with creator Natsuko Ishitsuyo in which we discuss mythology of all kinds and go to the shrine to pray for the success of the English translation among other things.

But if you are feeling less comics-oriented in this new year and more word-y, perhaps you would be interested in Sayaka Murata’s recent Chikyu Seijin, which comes out in English translation by my pal Ginny Tapley Takemori in this the year of our Lord 2020. And now that I have read the book, dang! I do not envy Ginny this difficult task. In fact, when I turned the last page of the book, I said out loud to my empty apartment, “What the fuck, Murata-san?” This book is taking you places you maybe didn’t want to go, but too bad, Murata’s got you in her sights now, so you’re going whether you like it or not. Continue reading “Chikyu Seijin: Sayaka Murata”

Yatagarasu V3-6: Chisato Abe

YatagarasuWell, it’s been a wild ride, but we all knew that it had to come to an end. I mean, going into the Yatagarasu series, I was aware that there were only six books in it. This isn’t some light novel series that drags out its tale volume after volume until its translator prays for mercy. And I have at last finished all six of those books. I’d intended to keep writing about each volume as I finished it, but of course, work and life and travel and other books all got in the way of me actually sitting down to write, even as I kept reading. And now I’ve finished the last of the six books, Iyasaka no Karasu, and all my brain wants to do is the big overview, so here we are.

Let’s just get this out of the way now: publishers, please, please license this series and hire me to translate it into English. People will want to read these books! They are unlike anything I’ve ever read in the world of science fiction and fantasy, and we could all use some beautifully written fantasy based on Japanese mythology and culture. I’m so tired of orcs and elves! Let’s get some crows and monkeys on the SFF shelves! Continue reading “Yatagarasu V3-6: Chisato Abe”

Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)

stormPeople have been telling me for ages that I should read Yukiko Motoya, that I would enjoy her quirky, magically realistic style. So she has been on my reading list for some time now, and yet I never manage to get around to reading her work. I always have so many other things to read! Things that were on the list first, things I need to read for work, things written by authors who are already my favourites which means they are naturally higher up on my list of reading priorities. So Motoya never seemed to get a foothold in my reading world.

And then I went to London earlier this year to talk to people about manga and translation, a thing I do for free on Twitter, so I was more than a little surprised than anyone would actually pay me to do it, much less fly me across an ocean. But they did, so I jumped on a plane to tell some British people why manga is important and interesting as a genre in itself and what the challenges in translating it are. (Spoiler: It has a lot to do with the pictures part of the equation.) The festival was mostly a celebration of fiction without pictures, though, so I was surrounded by great authors and amazing translators for a week, which was such a treat. I got to hear about so many interesting books and translation projects and challenges from people doing fascinating work in the world of Japanese art and literature. It was like I was living all books all the time. I very much recommend the experience Continue reading “Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)”

Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe

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I often get annoyed at works of fiction in any medium that feature an almost exclusively male cast. Where are the women? Girls? Who is producing all the men in this strange world? They baffle me, these worlds without women. As I’ve said before, there are only two situations in which I will accept a startling lack of women: boys’ boarding schools and men’s prisons. These are places where the population necessarily lists male-heavy. Any other setting in a world of human beings better have some women who say something and are part of the action in a significant way or I am walking away.

But I have at last discovered a third world in which a mostly male cast is entirely acceptable: Heian-style segregated imperial court. After the first volume of the Yatagarasu series Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai, which was pretty much all ladies all the time, Karasu wa Aruji wo Erabanai presents the men’s side of the story. And not in a #NotAllMen kind of way. Abe simply rewinds time in a way, bringing her readers back to the beginning of Hitoe and retelling the story of that entire time period from the perspective of the men involved in the story. And since the court in this world (and in the flowery bygone days of a long-ago Japan) is mostly segregated by gender, the story of the men mostly involves men, much like the story of the women mostly involved women. Continue reading “Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe”

Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai: Chisato Abe

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After several months of flying around the world because I am apparently a jetsetter now—but only an economy class one, so it’s all very uncomfortable and cramped—I have returned to my home and native land (have we not changed the lyrics to that song yet? That is some seriously settler style stuff there) only to discover that it is cold and unpleasant here. A discovery I make upon my return every winter. A discovery which makes me reconsider my life choices and ponder a permanent move across the ocean to Tokyo where we simply play pretend at winter. All those Canada Goose jackets! For temperatures that almost never go below zero! How charming!

Happily, however, this freelance life means I can do my job anywhere as long as I have my trusty computer, and anywhere includes never leaving my apartment because it is too cold and gross outside. And never leaving my house means all that time I save on actually going places and seeing people, I can devote to reading all those books I keep buying to trap myself in a pleasant circular hell of never being able to read all the books I buy. But not all of those books are bought! Knowing that I have certain proclivities, pretty much anyone and everyone in my life gives me books when faced with the challenge of what to get me for some special occasion or no occasion at all.

Which is how I came into the possession of the six books of Chisato Abe’s Yatagarasu series. I’ve been wanting to dig deeper into science fiction and fantasy by women authors in Japan both because there is a dearth of these very books in translation into English and because I just really love SFF and want to find new stuff to tease my eyeballs with. And wow, if you want something new in your SFF reading diet, you are probably going to want to check out Hitoe. Here’s the elevator pitch: Heian era bird people. Game of Thrones meets Tale of Genji. With crows. Who are people.

The gifter of these books suggested that I start with volume three since the first two books are basically dressing the windows, mostly world building and not much action. But personally, I especially want my fantasy to be heavy on the world building; I want to dig deep into my new fictional universe! So of course I started with volume one, Hitoe. And while it is indeed heavy on the world building, it does not lack for action.

Surveying the great mountain range, the god of the mountains decreed that there would be four families ruling over them—north, west, south, and east—along with one family to rule over all of them—Souke. We enter this world long after the god has made this declaration, and all five families are well established in their own ways. Tradition has it that each of the four directional families sends a daughter when the time comes to serve at court so that the imperial prince may choose a wife from among them. And the time has indeed come.

But the eastern house’s eldest daughter, the one who has been groomed since birth to be the future emperor’s bride, is stricken with smallpox and scarred only a few months before she is to go to the imperial palace. So it is the second princess who goes in her place, a naïve girl who was raised apart from the main palace in the east and knows little of the ways of the world. Including the fact that she could technically turn into a giant bird whenever she wanted. She’s basically the tutorial character in an RPG. Since she knows nothing about anything, everyone is forced to explain things to her. This could have been annoying in the hands of a less capable writer, but Abe is surprisingly skilled (this is her debut work), and the second princess is deeply sympathetic as the reader learns with her about the three other princesses there to compete for the prince’s affections and the court system they are a part of.

Since no men are allowed in the Sakura Palace where the four women have their own palatial lodgings, the story revolves almost entirely around the princesses and their many lady attendants. And while the idea of competing for a prince’s affections sounds pretty backwards, the women all have their own agency and political motivations, making this less a love story and more a political thriller with romance having zero to do with any of it. And indeed, in the book’s climax, the story is more murder mystery than fantasy. We learn all the secret machinations that pushed the different bits of the story forward and characters that seemed despicable at first become sympathetic in a constant upturning of everything the reader is invested in.

From a language nerd perspective, I love how Abe constantly shifts between names for the characters in a way that is easy to follow and yet still deeply meaningful. When we meet our ostensible protagonist (all the princesses get their time in the sun), she is known only as the second princess. It’s not until she gets to court that she receives what we would consider a name. And all the princess names are merely pseudonyms, placeholders until they marry and can reveal their true names. A revelation that is powerful in many ways in the case of one princess later on in the book. It’s like Abe’s toying with that old fantasy trope that names have power, but combining it with the Japanese tradition of different names for different aspects of your life.

The book is basically three hundred and seventy pages of court drama and intrigue in flowing kimono with incense recipes and hanabi parties and origami, against a backdrop of steep cliffs and rocky mountains navigated by people who can turn into birds, who are birds. It feels both familiar and utterly, surprisingly new at the same time. Don’t let anyone tell you to read the third book first. Start with volume one and get deep into all the twists and turns of this strange world of crow people. 

Heaven’s Wind: Angus Turvill (ed.)

heavenswind_img2.jpgFrom desert to snow to the gentle warmth of late fall in Tokyo, I have experienced a lot of weather in the last couple of weeks. And a lot of jet lag. My body clock may never recover, to be honest. I am not meant for this jet-set life; there’s a reason I’m a freelance translator and not, like, the head of an international house of couture. (I imagine they fly a lot? I don’t know. I work at home; I’m very out of touch with the world.) So I’m more than happy to settle into Tokyo life for the next few months. Especially happy to pick up on my Tokyo bookstore life and get all the brand-new manga that I’ve been watching appear from my Toronto apartment.

But there is still a backlog of books to deal with before we get to all that juicy new stuff. Like this lovely bilingual collection of stories released earlier this year by the Japan Society! I ordered it straight away, but since its arrival, it has languished in the shelf of unread books because of the many other books in the queue before it, the general overwhelming busy-ness of the last couple months of my life, and a vague sense that this was not the book I wanted to read at that time. Sometimes, a book will seem like the perfect book for the moment on paper, but when you actually pick it up, it feels wrong in your hands somehow. And when that happens, I always respect what the book and the moment are saying and turn my attention to a different book. If you’re not in the mood for that particular book, you end up not appreciating it and really wasting everybody’s time. Continue reading “Heaven’s Wind: Angus Turvill (ed.)”