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Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami

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How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive? A rare look inside the making of the "Murakami Industry"—and a thought-provoking exploration of the role of translators and editors in the creation of global literary culture. Thirty years ago, when Haruki Murakami's works were first being translated, they were part of a seri How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive? A rare look inside the making of the "Murakami Industry"—and a thought-provoking exploration of the role of translators and editors in the creation of global literary culture. Thirty years ago, when Haruki Murakami's works were first being translated, they were part of a series of pocket-sized English-learning guides released only in Japan. Today his books are in fifty languages and have won prizes and sold millions of copies globally. How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive? This book tells one key part of the story. Its cast includes an expat trained in art history who never intended to become a translator; a Chinese-American ex-academic who never planned to work as an editor; and other publishing professionals in New York, London, and Tokyo who together introduced an understated, pop-inflected, unexpected Japanese voice to the wider literary world. David Karashima synthesizes research, correspondence, and interviews with dozens of individuals—including Murakami himself—to examine how countless behind-the-scenes choices over the course of many years worked to build an internationally celebrated author's persona and oeuvre. He looks beyond the "Murakami Industry" toward larger questions: How active a role should translators and editors play in framing their writers' texts? What does it mean to translate and edit "for a market"? How does Japanese culture get packaged and exported for the West?


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How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive? A rare look inside the making of the "Murakami Industry"—and a thought-provoking exploration of the role of translators and editors in the creation of global literary culture. Thirty years ago, when Haruki Murakami's works were first being translated, they were part of a seri How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive? A rare look inside the making of the "Murakami Industry"—and a thought-provoking exploration of the role of translators and editors in the creation of global literary culture. Thirty years ago, when Haruki Murakami's works were first being translated, they were part of a series of pocket-sized English-learning guides released only in Japan. Today his books are in fifty languages and have won prizes and sold millions of copies globally. How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive? This book tells one key part of the story. Its cast includes an expat trained in art history who never intended to become a translator; a Chinese-American ex-academic who never planned to work as an editor; and other publishing professionals in New York, London, and Tokyo who together introduced an understated, pop-inflected, unexpected Japanese voice to the wider literary world. David Karashima synthesizes research, correspondence, and interviews with dozens of individuals—including Murakami himself—to examine how countless behind-the-scenes choices over the course of many years worked to build an internationally celebrated author's persona and oeuvre. He looks beyond the "Murakami Industry" toward larger questions: How active a role should translators and editors play in framing their writers' texts? What does it mean to translate and edit "for a market"? How does Japanese culture get packaged and exported for the West?

30 review for Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    The blurb states that this is a book about how Murakami rose to global fame - alas, it's simply incorrect that Karashima investigates how "Japanese culture gets packaged and exported for the West", as he exclusively talks about Murakami in the US, which obviosuly does not constitute "the West" (we get some info about the UK towards the very end of the book, and it's more of an afterthought). I am frankly stunned that a book about international translated fiction thinks it can explain the percept The blurb states that this is a book about how Murakami rose to global fame - alas, it's simply incorrect that Karashima investigates how "Japanese culture gets packaged and exported for the West", as he exclusively talks about Murakami in the US, which obviosuly does not constitute "the West" (we get some info about the UK towards the very end of the book, and it's more of an afterthought). I am frankly stunned that a book about international translated fiction thinks it can explain the perception of "an internationally celebrated author's persona and oeuvre" (again, the blurb) by narrowing its perspective to the US market, thus also playing into the worst prejudices against this country. As an additional problem, this brand-new book only discusses Murakami's career up until 1998, and then just stops. Karashima talks to the translators and editors who worked on the English translations, he gives detailed accounts of their professional credentials, meetings with the author, the editing process, the covers and the marketing of Murakami in the US, cuts made to various texts, changes in novels and magazine articles - this book is certainly a treasure trove for everyone interested in Murakami translations published in the US until 1998. But that's not what the marketing suggests the book is limited to - and the false expectations evoked by the marketing led to my disappointment. Most of Murakami's international fans are NOT reading a version of Murakami's work influenced by the people Karashima portrays in Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami - and that would be fine, if the publisher would not mislead potential readers with a lofty blurb that misrepresents the focus and scope of this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Soft Skull

    David Karashima synthesizes research, correspondence, and interviews with dozens of individuals–including Murakami himself–to examine how countless behind-the-scenes choices over the course of many years worked to build an internationally celebrated author’s persona and oeuvre. It is a rare look inside the making of the “Murakami Industry” and a thought-provoking exploration of the role of translators and editors in the creation of global literary culture.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Berlitz

    Probably the book I purchased and devoured the fastest this year. Karashima gives us a lot of insider information from e-mails and interviews with translators, editors and publishers involved in Murakami's astounding worldwide success. Yet the book left me wanting to know more. While the biographies of Birnbaum and Luke are very detailed, the same can't be said about other parts of the Murakami story: how did Murakami become famous in Japan in the first place before he was even considered as som Probably the book I purchased and devoured the fastest this year. Karashima gives us a lot of insider information from e-mails and interviews with translators, editors and publishers involved in Murakami's astounding worldwide success. Yet the book left me wanting to know more. While the biographies of Birnbaum and Luke are very detailed, the same can't be said about other parts of the Murakami story: how did Murakami become famous in Japan in the first place before he was even considered as someone that could have success in other countries? And how was he received in other countries? This book is, of course, US/New York centric, and ends with a note on the UK, but what about Murakami's story in other countries of the world? How does the Murakami office work? This might not be the focus of the world, but considering that in many countries Murakami was translated from the English, not the Japanese original, this becomes quite significant. I still gave it a high rating because information on this topic is rare, and I don't think I'm the only one who always wanted to look behind the scenes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Haider

    I've read a lot (but not all) of Murakami books. I hope to get to at least a couple of the ones that I haven't read yet by the end of the year. He is definitely one of my favorite authors...quirky, clever, moody. So, when I saw this non-fiction work pop up on a list of upcoming releases I jumped all over it. In this short book, author David Karashima discusses how Murakami came to be translated into English and gain popularity. He introduces us to the various translators, editors and publishers I've read a lot (but not all) of Murakami books. I hope to get to at least a couple of the ones that I haven't read yet by the end of the year. He is definitely one of my favorite authors...quirky, clever, moody. So, when I saw this non-fiction work pop up on a list of upcoming releases I jumped all over it. In this short book, author David Karashima discusses how Murakami came to be translated into English and gain popularity. He introduces us to the various translators, editors and publishers who through the past 30 or so years, brought Murakami's books to an English-speaking audience. Murakami's works were written in Japanese and gained some popularity in Japan. we also here of Murakami's time in America when he was on staff at Princeton University and Tufts University. This book actually not only let me learn more about Murakami but also more about the process of translating a book. It was fascinating to me. I read a good number of books in translation and have always wondered a bit about how they are translated. I recommend this book to any Murakami fan! thank you to the publisher for the review copy!

  5. 4 out of 5

    J Earl

    Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami by David Karashima is an interesting glimpse at both the work of translating as well as the making of Murakami as an international phenomenon. First, since I saw at least one review that read the book blurb from a very specific perspective and was thus disappointed, I want to clarify what this book is and isn't. the blurb states clearly this is about the making of Murakami's international fame, not a history of it. So, using my home country as an exam Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami by David Karashima is an interesting glimpse at both the work of translating as well as the making of Murakami as an international phenomenon. First, since I saw at least one review that read the book blurb from a very specific perspective and was thus disappointed, I want to clarify what this book is and isn't. the blurb states clearly this is about the making of Murakami's international fame, not a history of it. So, using my home country as an example, if one reads a book about the making of the US, there probably won't be anything much covered after 1800. Same here, what kick-started the international acclaim was breaking into the US market, so that is what is covered here. To complain that the book does indeed do what it claims just because you misunderstood the blurb and wanted a different book is grossly misleading. Okay, so now we know how to read the book blurb... This is a fascinating look behind the scenes at how an author becomes known outside the language in which he writes. In this case, it is someone whose fame took off once he was known, in part because of the work of bringing the work to a wider audience and in part because it happened early enough in his career that his growth could be followed by readers in other languages. I have read several books over the last year or two about translating and the work of translation, mostly written from the perspective of the translator and written in broad terms even when referencing specific works. Those were very interesting and definitely, for me, set the stage for this book. Here we get details about translations of one author but with multiple translators offering insights. We also see just how much the economic side of the equation plays a role. At one point it is mentioned that, if the first foray into the US market had been ten years later, less money thus less attention would have been allocated. Would it have been as successful? Who knows, but it would certainly have had a different trajectory. While having read Murakami will help to make this book far more interesting, I think readers who are less familiar with his work can still get a lot from it. The specifics of this author and his translations illustrates the range of things, from coincidences to finances to degree of input of the author, that goes into making literature of one culture or language accessible to others. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Shawn

    A peek behind the curtain of the famed Murakami machine. Once the legendary Japanese author puts pen to table, the journey of his novels is far from over. "Who We're Reading..." dives into the history of the translation and publication of Murakami's work over the past five decades. A must have for the legion of fans of the author.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    An interesting look at the introduction of Haruki Murakami to the Western market -- specifically the moves that translated him to English and brought him to America, leading up to the publication of THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, at which point he was a bona fide international superstar. It was intriguing to hear from his first two pivotal translators, Jay Rubin and Alfred Birnbaum, and to hear from Murakami himself about that time, although I had the unsettling feeling the whole time that this was An interesting look at the introduction of Haruki Murakami to the Western market -- specifically the moves that translated him to English and brought him to America, leading up to the publication of THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, at which point he was a bona fide international superstar. It was intriguing to hear from his first two pivotal translators, Jay Rubin and Alfred Birnbaum, and to hear from Murakami himself about that time, although I had the unsettling feeling the whole time that this was all so ~slight~ -- which isn't to say there could've/should've been more to the book, or the story, but at about 250 pages, there's definitely a "for the superfans" quality to this book. Me personally, having just decided to (for the time being anyway) give up on Murakami after years of diminishing returns, it was a quirky little capstone to that decision, particularly to keep in mind that translation often has as much to do with what we think about an author as anything else.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shannon A

    An absolutely fascinating look behind the scenes and the many voices that go into translation work. I loved all the details that lead Murakami’s editors, translators to translate into English the worlds that Murakami Imagines.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Teenu Vijayan

    The title of this book is a playful twist on Murakami's memoir, What I talk about when I talk about running and that was what drew me to the book. This is a sheer celebration of Murakami, his work, his baby steps to global fame and how many people were behind it. David Karishma has done his research well and for that I applaud him. He has trace back the earliest of communications that were exchanged between the author, translators, editors and publishers. Giving a glimpse into what makes or break The title of this book is a playful twist on Murakami's memoir, What I talk about when I talk about running and that was what drew me to the book. This is a sheer celebration of Murakami, his work, his baby steps to global fame and how many people were behind it. David Karishma has done his research well and for that I applaud him. He has trace back the earliest of communications that were exchanged between the author, translators, editors and publishers. Giving a glimpse into what makes or breaks an author, especially in American market. More on the business side of publishing, we do get a letter or email that reminds us how much of a personal affair is getting one's books translated and accepted by a wider audience. The different translators who have come and gone throughout these years, the creative liberty that some have taken for certain books, what goes through the mind of our much reclusive authors mind, all these intrigued me. So basically it was me fangirling for most of the book and then feeling really upset when the book ended abruptly like that, I wanted MORE. (they only discuss till 1993) Read it if you love Murakami or in general if you are interested in translations :)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    This book was a little bit different than what I was expecting. I was anticipating a book that would discuss in detail the difficulties of translating from Japanese to English and of translation in general, but instead this book talks a lot more about the BUSINESS of translation. It tracks in almost painstaking detail the relationship between Murakami, his editors, his publishers, his translators and his agent from the early 80s to the late 90s. Still, it was illuminating to learn more about the bu This book was a little bit different than what I was expecting. I was anticipating a book that would discuss in detail the difficulties of translating from Japanese to English and of translation in general, but instead this book talks a lot more about the BUSINESS of translation. It tracks in almost painstaking detail the relationship between Murakami, his editors, his publishers, his translators and his agent from the early 80s to the late 90s. Still, it was illuminating to learn more about the business side of the book industry, especially how a foreign author like Murakami can try to break into the American market. The other thing that was interesting was realizing that translators sometimes have very strong opinions about the books they translate. And they can really change the book, sometimes by cutting stuff they deem irrelevant or by significantly changing the style. Overall, I think I will be a lot more wary from now on when I read fiction in translation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    One of these days, I will learn that whenever a US publication about something non-American in origin speaks of how it came to be introduced to "Western culture" and "the international market", what it means is "US culture" and "the US market" with anything else in the world tacked on as a mere afterthought. Interesting enough if you like Murakami's work and are interested in the world of book translations and publishing, but I was hoping for a wider look at the success of Murakami's work with a One of these days, I will learn that whenever a US publication about something non-American in origin speaks of how it came to be introduced to "Western culture" and "the international market", what it means is "US culture" and "the US market" with anything else in the world tacked on as a mere afterthought. Interesting enough if you like Murakami's work and are interested in the world of book translations and publishing, but I was hoping for a wider look at the success of Murakami's work with a global rather than just American audience.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    WHO WE’RE READING WHEN WE’RE READING MURAKAMI by David Karashima is a compelling in depth look at the behind the scenes of bringing the English translations of Haruki Murakami’s early books to the US market. . I have read and loved several of Murakami’s books so I was immediately interested to read this book. It was really eye opening to learn about all the hard work and passion that went into the English translations of his books. The research and interviews in this book give great insight into t WHO WE’RE READING WHEN WE’RE READING MURAKAMI by David Karashima is a compelling in depth look at the behind the scenes of bringing the English translations of Haruki Murakami’s early books to the US market. . I have read and loved several of Murakami’s books so I was immediately interested to read this book. It was really eye opening to learn about all the hard work and passion that went into the English translations of his books. The research and interviews in this book give great insight into the translating and publishing world. It was really enjoyable to read this book which itself is also translated from the Japanese. . It’s always a true marker for a good book when it inspires you to keep reading. Such is the case with this book. Halfway through reading this book I went to the library to borrow A Wild Sheep Chase. . I’d definitely recommend this book to Murakami fans! . Thank you to Soft Skull Press via NetGalley for my early review copy!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jed

    interview tk

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Fisher

    Rather enjoyed this more than I expected. A brilliant look at the launching of HM's career in the English market and the many (talented) individuals who made it happen.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kee Onn

    Haruki Murakami, one of the powerhouses in contemporary fiction and frequently anticipated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is also unique in being one of the few figures whom his English-language works are all translated from the original Japanese. When we read a Murakami novel, we are also reading the work and thoughts of the translators, which can be either the enigmatic Alfred Birnbaum, the academic Philip Gabriel, or Jay Rubin who works most closely with Murakami. A rare behind-the-scenes Haruki Murakami, one of the powerhouses in contemporary fiction and frequently anticipated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is also unique in being one of the few figures whom his English-language works are all translated from the original Japanese. When we read a Murakami novel, we are also reading the work and thoughts of the translators, which can be either the enigmatic Alfred Birnbaum, the academic Philip Gabriel, or Jay Rubin who works most closely with Murakami. A rare behind-the-scenes look at the translation process and the challenges of publishing in a nascently globalized world, it is also a blast from the past of the pre-Internet era where letter-writing and telegraphs dominates, international travel is relatively uncommon, and yet Murakami and his team managed to make it big in the literary scene. A fascinating read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    A must read for Murakami readers. Even for those new to the author provides a lot of insights on translating and marketing novels and authors globally.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nuha

    Thanks to Soft Skull Press and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy! Now available! Clearheaded and precise, David Karashima's Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami presents an often underdiscussed topic in translated international fiction. Hardly anyone who reads literary fiction can claim to not know the name Murakami or be immediately absorbed into his world of Japanese magical realism. However, Murakami, or rather the English translation of Murakami, is not who we think he is. By d Thanks to Soft Skull Press and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy! Now available! Clearheaded and precise, David Karashima's Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami presents an often underdiscussed topic in translated international fiction. Hardly anyone who reads literary fiction can claim to not know the name Murakami or be immediately absorbed into his world of Japanese magical realism. However, Murakami, or rather the English translation of Murakami, is not who we think he is. By delving into the world of translators, publishers and editors, Karashima takes the reader into a behind the scenes journey of literary fiction, one that we as readers rarely have the chance to enter. It is fascinating to consider, for example, how the order of the novels published makes an impact on an author's ability to break into the American market, how certain words and characters might be dramatically changed by the slight of the translator's hand and the unknowing, long lasting impact it can have. Karashima makes the journey both accessible and entertaining, at times even drawing on a little bit of Murakami's magic himself.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alexander

    This book has one of the all time great covers. The sort of 1960s influenced style that reminds you of Time covers like Is God Dead and makes the book almost irresistible. Unfortunately the contents - an amble through how Murakami was translated and published up to 1998 - is almost completely without incident or interest to anyone who isn’t a staff writer of the New Yorker or who works in fiction publishing. You almost wonder how it’s possible for something so inconsequential to be published. The This book has one of the all time great covers. The sort of 1960s influenced style that reminds you of Time covers like Is God Dead and makes the book almost irresistible. Unfortunately the contents - an amble through how Murakami was translated and published up to 1998 - is almost completely without incident or interest to anyone who isn’t a staff writer of the New Yorker or who works in fiction publishing. You almost wonder how it’s possible for something so inconsequential to be published. The height of it is (1) Murakami’s books are a lot longer and more discursive in Japanese, (2) US publishing involves more editing and has been surprisingly censorious in cutting some sex scenes from an early HK novel, but (3) HK didn’t really mind at the time. Oh, and there have been two translators. It’s short, padded out with some generous copies of letters (which are repeated in the text), and it’s not entirely clear why it stops in 1998. A breeze of a read and it’ll look good casually left on a coffee table

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Hanlon

    Interesting at times, but there were several occasions where the book seemed to get lost in the weeds investigating different accounts of events that fed into Murakami’s rise in the English language. There were interesting cases of differing translations that could prompt an interesting comparison of different versions of HM’s short stories. Toward the end of the book, the insights of other writers on Murakami’s influence were quite illuminating.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    A fascinating, rare glimpse into the earliest years of Haruki Murakami's rise to international stardom. Sure to please anyone familiar with Murakami's oeuvre, but may not be worth it otherwise, considering how deeply Karashima delves into the specificities of Murakami's publishing team

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard Janzen

    Love Murakami, so kind of interesting to see the process involved in translating and selling his early English translations. Bit not a particularly gripping tale or topic.

  22. 5 out of 5

    PJ

    A bit dry. Interesting if you're a Murakami fan.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    An exploration of translation and the origins of the Murakami empire. This is certainly not for everyone, but if you love Murakami it’s worth a shot.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sirena

    A history of publication of Murakami's novels in U. S. Only for Murakami's die-hard fans. 😎

  25. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  26. 5 out of 5

    E.K.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Megan Jeffrey

  28. 4 out of 5

    AVA A

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joseph N. Welch

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