A GLLI Video Interview with Cathy Hirano

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The global pandemic has forced events online and deprived excellent books of much needed opportunities for promotion. So when the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative announced the winners of its 2021 Translated YA Book Prize and gave 2020 co-winner Cathy Hirano the chance to talk about her translations of The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior, I tuned in to watch her interview (accessible from here) with David Jacobson, introduced by Annette Goldsmith.

Cathy drew on her long career to share her insights into literary translation. For her work with Nahoko Uehashi, she related how Uehashi herself commissioned the entire translation of a Moribito title instead of just a sample, which demonstrated her understanding that the power of that story could only be seen when presented in its entirety. Talking at length about their work together, Cathy also appreciated how Uehashi is flexible, tweaking her work for dramatization and other adaptations, and often engaging deeply to help others convey her work. Cathy would probably be quick to concur that her excellent translations are in part down to what I perceived to be her deeply satisfying collaborative relationship with Uehashi, which in turn contributed to Uehashi clinching the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing.

The conversation also touched on adding information to build cultural bridges—or not—for example, by leaving foreign words as-is, like Toda for the lizards bred for battle, while choosing Royal Beast over Ōjū, which didn’t sound quite so magnificent in English. That Uehashi’s fantasy worlds had to be shaped by the original text meant less bridging work than stories set in specific periods in history.

US editions of The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior (Holt), illustrated by Yuta Onoda

Turning to the themes in the Beast titles, Cathy notes that while Uehashi draws on her background in cultural anthropology to weave complex multicultural relationships in a fantasy world, just as she did for the Moribito series, romance only appears in fleeting episodes. The momentum stays very much in the tussles with power and with the fear and control of the unfamiliar other. While I was particularly drawn to Elin’s development under the guidance of her mentors Joeun and Esalu in The Beast Player, it was intriguing to hear both David and Cathy note the parallel in the political relationships between the symbolic ruler Yojeh and her protectors, and that of Japan and the US in the real world, although Uehashi was leaning more towards an exploration of the situation internally in Japan. Perhaps my reading as a Singaporean was partly what made me simply join Elin and her young family in their flight in the second title, struggling together with them to find the light in a dense tangle of relationships. Then, Elin’s bond with Leelan, a Royal Beast she had cared for since nursing her back to health as a cub, steeled her to do what she had to in the final maelstrom.

As the interview drew to a close, Cathy made the translator in me smile when she said she found great satisfaction from knowing her work helped someone else experience a book the same way she did. By taking the time to highlight this second fascinating epic from the collaborative duo of Nahoko Uehashi and Cathy Hirano, GLLI too has opened more doors to worlds of the other, and extended an invitation to the conversation on translated works for children and young adults.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen Van Drie on May 15, 2021 at 10:44 am

    Thank you so much, Andrew, for sharing this presentation here. It was such a fascinating discussion!

    Reply

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