I recently posed a review of the Japanese novel 天使の卵 (Angel’s Egg) by 村山由佳 (Yuka Murayama). In it, I praised the writing style of the book, although I hadn’t given too much detail in terms of exactly what I liked about it besides saying it was very “literary”.
So I’ve decided to give a short excerpt that shows off the well-crafted prose of this book, along with my own translation in English. Please note that this translation is completely unofficial and not endorsed by the author or publisher.
The excerpt is taken from page 111 of the paperback version. I’ve selected a short section that doesn’t require any background knowledge so you can appreciate it in isolation and not have to worry about spoilers.
When transcribing the text I was very careful to keep the same mix of kanji, hiragana, and katakana that the author used. This is important since it affects the nuance of the passage as well as its readability. There was only a total of three words with furigana reading hints in the text, and I have included those at the bottom of this post for reference.
As I believe some people reading this blog are interested in learning about translation, I have also included a few translation notes at the bottom. If you have any questions or comments about the translation, please feel free to leave a comment.
Japanese original text
The summer sunlight softened by degrees as the shadows lengthened more each day. In time, the rain––countless silvery silken threads––began pouring down on the streets, chalky white from dust clouds.
The rain wet the ivy plants, tinges of red beginning to appear on their leaves, wet the cobblestone around the train stations, wet the backs of the stray cats who sat curled up, eyes blinking and whiskers twitching. Once the downpour began, there was no end in sight.
Each rainfall brought a certain freshness and clarity to the air, and when the clouds eventually parted and the sun emerged everything in sight glittered, as if butterflies had just scattered myriad golden scales upon the world.
Autumn had finally arrived.
For the most part, I’ve made a literal rendering of the source text, with a few tweaks here and there to improve the flow and naturalness of the result.
Two words which are not literally in the source text but, in my opinion, in line with the author’s intentions were “countless” and “myriad”. For the phrase “あたりは一面”, which is literally close to “all around”, I ended up translating using two separate phrases: “everything in sight” and “upon the world”. I added the latter for dramatic effect at a key point in this passage.
I chose to tweak the expression “磨きぬかれて”, which refers to the air as being “polished”, and instead use “freshness”, a term that I feel is more suitable in English.
The long dash (”──”) in the last sentence, while similar to the em-dash in English, has a nuance that I felt was not accurately captured by an English em-dash. So I elected to add a paragraph break instead, especially because it was the end of the excerpt. Had I translated this passage in context, I might have tried to keep that final sentence in the same paragraph.
The word “finally” in the last sentence was not literally in the original text. However, given the fact this entire passage is talking about a gradual change of seasons, and the presence of the Japanese の imparting a difficult-to-translate explanatory feeling, I felt it was a good adjustment to make. The more literal translation “Autumn had arrived” feels somehow too plain and lacking impact.
Furigana (in the original text)