Posts Tagged ‘Soho Teen’

A Conversation with Translator Takami Nieda

By Susan E. Jones, Kobe

Translator Takami Nieda is back with a new YA translation! At SCBWI Japan in 2019, she described the translation and publication process of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s GO (Amazon Crossing, 2018, Freeman Book Award winner). Here, she talks about her latest YA translation: Chesil’s The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart (Soho Teen, 2022).

The source text『ジニのパズル』(Jini no pazuru / Ginny’s Puzzle) was nominated for an Akutagawa Prize in 2016 and stood out to Takami as one ripe for translation. Her depiction of Ginny, a conflicted Zainichi teen, lays bare the struggle many multicultural people experience.

Seventeen-year-old Ginny Park is about to get expelled from high school—again. Stephanie, the picture book author who took Ginny into her Oregon home after she was kicked out of school in Hawaii, isn’t upset; she only wants to know why. But Ginny has always been in-between. She can’t bring herself to open up to anyone about her past, or about what prompted her to flee her native Japan. Then, Ginny finds a mysterious scrawl among Stephanie’s scraps of paper and storybook drawings that changes everything: The sky is about to fall. Where do you go?

Ginny sets off on the road in search of an answer, with only her journal as a confidante. In witty and brutally honest vignettes, and interspersed with old letters from her expatriated family in North Korea, Ginny recounts her adolescence growing up Zainichi, an ethnic Korean born in Japan, and the incident that forced her to leave years prior.

Inspired by her own childhood, author Chesil creates a portrait of a girl who has been fighting alone against barriers of prejudice, nationality, and injustice all her life—and one searching for a place to belong. (Publisher’s synopsis.)

Susan: Given your translation of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s GO, Chesil’s The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart, and your forthcoming Travelers of a Hundred Years (by Lee Hoesung) and Yubi no Hone (by Hiroki Takahashi), we are definitely starting to see a theme in the works you gravitate toward translating. Are you becoming something of a spokesperson for ethnic Koreans in Japan? Have you been noticed or recognized in that community for your work? Have you been called upon to explain their position at any venue in the US?

Takami Nieda

Takami: No, I haven’t, which is a good thing, as there are any number of scholars and ethnic Koreans who can speak to these issues more knowledgeably than I can. I am careful to point out that Zainichi is a term that comes with some controversy, and some might resist that category, which often conflates diverse Korean populations who identify not as Zainichi but as Korean Japanese or Japanese. For this reason, it’s important that they have the agency to decide how they choose to be identified. In the case of Chesil, she identifies as a third-generation Korean born in Japan, and I’ve not seen her refer to herself as Zainichi.

Susan: How smooth was the editing process of this translation? I am particularly interested in the fact that this was a novel marketed to adults in Japan and YA in English regions. Did you or the editor change the writing style to make it more appropriate for a teen reader? Did you know as you translated that it would likely be marketed for teens?

Takami: Soho Teen picked up the translation, so I did know going in that the book would be marketed as YA, but I wouldn’t say that I changed the writing style—maybe in a couple of places here and there. The novel wasn’t necessarily written as a YA but the prose is very clean and economical. I just translated the original text, which is juiced with this righteous indignation and energy and quite lyrical in parts, as it was. I might have had a couple of words like “bad apple,” which the editor pointed out as not age appropriate (or archaic). There was also a reference to Robert DeNiro, which the editor felt needed a little help for a younger reader to understand. Those small changes I’m willing to make, but it was important to retain Chesil’s voice and writing style.

Susan: I want to ask you a bit more about your decision (or your joint decision with Chesil) about gendered pronouns. How did you/she end up deciding on them? For example, on p. 7, “the wearer” of the dirty shoes is referred to as “he” and I wonder if that was specified in the Japanese source text.

Takami: There were several places where I thought there was an opportunity to reinforce a recurring theme in the novel by specifying gender. I thought that gendering the star, which Ginny has a conversation with, as “she” might suggest a bit of a sisterhood between them. Also, gendering the sky as “she” might suggest something about whose fall was being “caught” in the end. I asked Chesil what she thought about it, and she agreed to the first, but opted to keep the pronoun of the sky non-specific, so readers could make their own conclusions about the ending.

(The gender of “the wearer” wasn’t specified in the source text, but I went with “he,” but really by default.)

Chesil

Susan: You mentioned that it was a positive experience to get feedback from Chesil as you translated. Would you prefer to do all of your translations in coordination with the author in this way? Was it a totally positive experience, or were there times when your own idea conflicted with hers but you felt obligated to meet her request?

Takami: This is the first time I was able to consult the author, so it was very exciting. I don’t think Chesil got as many questions from her editor as she’d gotten from me, and she was incredibly patient to answer every last one of them. We communicated entirely over email, but it felt to me that Chesil really understood the translation was going to be its own thing apart from the source text and she was quite keen to learn through our collaboration herself. It’s truly a gift to be able to work with a writer who understands that about translation, and I don’t know if that will ever happen again. I hope so!

Susan: What was the most challenging part of translating this book? I imagine I would have struggled with romanizing the Korean names and making it clear that Ginny is Jinhee. Did you need to do much explicitation to bridge cultural gaps?

Takami: I tried to figure out the romanization on my own, then consulted Chesil to make sure that I’d gotten the names right. We also were lucky to have a copy editor who was knowledgeable in the Korean language and culture, so they pointed out one or two issues with regard to names. Thank goodness for copy editors!

It’s interesting that in GO, Kazuki Kaneshiro purposefully wrote the opening of the book as a way to educate Japanese readers about how the Korean population came to Japan during WWII and the complexities of their citizenship status, knowing that Japanese readers wouldn’t know anything about it. On the other hand, Chesil gave almost no explanation, assuming perhaps that enough people would know about them or that readers would do the research themselves. So, if it’s not in the original text, I try not to add too much expository explanation because that can often get unwieldly and oftentimes takes away from the moment the writer is trying to capture.

Increasingly, I find myself resisting adding anything too much to bridge cultural gaps. In many ways English readers need to get used to the idea that not everything is going to be explained to them or center their experiences and expectations. The writer has allowed them a window into their world, which can be an immense act of courage and generosity, so readers ought to be willing do some work on their own to understand a culture or history they’re not familiar with.

Susan: Do you do anything in particular to absorb current teen lingo to incorporate in your translation?

Takami: As a community college teacher, I’m lucky to be around lots of young people every day, which helps me maintain an ear for lingo. But because a lot of slang tends to be regional or niche, and certainly short lived, the most current lingo isn’t always the best choice in translation. I usually try to go with lingo that’s had some staying power and has been around for a while.

Susan: Was it your idea to change the book title in translation or the publisher’s? Though long, I like it better than “Ginny’s Puzzle” for an English-speaking audience.

Takami: The first editor Amara Hoshijo suggested the title because of the character Ginny’s explanation of the phrase Sorairo wa kokoromoyou in the book. Amara had also mentioned that longish titles were a thing in YA literature and was concerned that the original title might suggest a story aimed at a younger audience. Chesil liked the suggestion, so we went with that.

Jacket for The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart (Soho Teen)

Susan: How has reception of this translation been so far? The theme of self-discovery and search for a place to fit in seem to be a universal struggle for teens (though Ginny obviously faces some extreme challenges). I imagine that this book would appeal to readers totally unfamiliar with Japan or ethnic Koreans in Japan.

Takami: Overall, the reception has been fantastic. Just as you’ve pointed out, many readers have noted the universal themes of identity and belonging, and have had their eyes opened to the ethnic Korean population in Japan. The novel packs a punch in a short 150+ pages, so I hope it will be taught in middle schools and high schools. I’d love to read some teen reviews of the novel as well!

Susan: This is perhaps a really insignificant question, but did you have any control over the fonts used in the hard copy version of the book? I quite liked the font used for handwriting and the chapter titles. (I missed this in the e-book!)

Takami: The typesetting was decided by the editing team and I’m rather fond of that font choice, too. You get the sense that you’re really reading Ginny’s handwritten journal entries as she tries to make sense of her past. I did request the Courier font for the screenplay scene between characters Yunmi and Jaehwan, because that’s the standard font for screenplays.

 

Takami Nieda reads from her work at the Sant Jordi USA Festival of Books, Roses, and the Arts.

Susan E. Jones, Associate Professor at Kobe College and longtime translator and teacher of translation, will serve as SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator beginning in January 2023.