Takami Nieda On Bringing GO into English

Takami Nieda (holding her translation of Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro) after speaking to SCBWI Japan on June 22.

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

On June 22, 2019, translator Takami Nieda dropped by in person to share her seven-year journey of bringing Kazuki Kaneshiro’s young adult/adult novel Go to English-language readers. The evening began with the opening basketball sequence of an award-winning film based on Go. In this sequence, the term “zainichi” sets the tone for high-schooler Sugihara’s raw, roller-coaster story of love and life.

A third-generation Korean Japanese himself, Kaneshiro positioned Go to explain itself to its original intended readership, the Japanese. So there were few difficulties, Nieda noted, in providing background information—something a translator would often have to add. Nieda did point out some challenging terms she dealt with like oyaji, which she translated as “father” sometimes and as “old man” at other times; ofukuro, for which she chose “mother” over “mom”; and the rhythmical puzzle posed by a reworded version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

The novel’s short time span means Sugihara, a high school student, stays safely within the YA category as defined in the Anglosphere, but the gritty, edgy, often violent original is not considered a YA work in Japan. Coupled with the fact that a title like Go isn’t exactly easy to spot in the digital abyss, we appreciated that, by adding a subtitle to the English-language edition, publisher Amazon Crossing may have helped more readers of YA to find the book. (The book now sells in English as Go: A Coming-of-Age Novel.)

Nieda shared some of Go’s reader figures, which demonstrate its broad appeal: readers above 25 are spread over several age categories. However, while digital downloads have been strong, the title has lacked presence in English-language bookstores. So Nieda went on to talk about other roads for Go to travel, including as a text for studying the relationship between Korea and Japan. (It has won a Freeman Award for Young Adult/High School Literature and also has clear uses in university classrooms.)

There were concerns over the weight of some violent sequences, but those were assuaged by the idea that some sequences could actually be perceived as physical manifestations of affection.

Very early on, Nieda quoted Chimamanda Adichie to remind us of the danger of a single story, and on closing she again drove home the need for stories from diverse perspectives. Certainly an inspiring message for creators of children’s works in SCBWI Japan!

An additional write-up of this event by writer Cam Sato appears at the SCBWI Japan main blog.

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