Project “Sweet Memories”

So ... it's kind of hard to peer-review your mentor. I mean, really. Especially given that he has read and thought about the piece significantly more than I have. So I will just talk about what reading it has taught me. At least it'll be true — for me.

As I wrote in my translator's note for May Sky, something that I had a lot of trouble with was the voices of the characters in the story, as well as the voice of the narrator himself. I knew just enough to know that a long run-on sentence in Japanese could well be a rigidly structured turn of phrase in English. Unfortunately, that was where my knowledge ended. Since I tackled the peer review after I had finished with May Sky, I decided to focus on the voices of The Letter.

The first thing that struck me in the translation was how stark the narrator's sentences were, and yet somehow everything is said and seen. When I opened the Japanese game, I saw short clipped sentences as well. Similarly, "Little Guy" has a speech that I had, from my own work, learned was childish and bordering-on-rude. I could also see, in both the original and the translation, the echoes of Big & Little Guy in each other's speech. Along those lines, Seung himself already discusses how he chose "Big Guy" and "Little Guy". I understood that it worked, but it was confirmed for me when I saw how the "hand (Little Guy) in hand (Big Guy)" line looks similar in Japanese: Takahiro observes that there's a little hand in a big hand. I have no idea whether or not Seung was influenced by that line — but I found it a lovely affirmation of his choice.

The other speech pattern that struck me was the mother's. My initial impression was that of a lovely, gentle, sweet woman with a barely revealed edge (oh fine ... my first thought was "Kasumi Tendou! IS THAT YOU?"). And actually, when I first read the line "Because [my mother] knew. That she'd won.", I felt that there was something slightly bitter in that line — and I wasn't sure if it was there. I figured I was reading that wrong somehow, and that the wrong reading came from me, not from the text! So, I went in search of what the story was really saying. In Japanese, the line is 「…母、強し」. When I looked up 強し in two corpora (Tanaka of WWWJDIC, and that of Space ALC), there's a whole set of sentences that use it to mean [x] is stronger than [y]. Obviously that's not exactly what Takahiro means. But still, it helped me to understand. That what Takahiro means is that the mother, and her love, and her gentleness, are truly stronger than anything else in Takahiro's world. Now I had been told in Japanese textbooks and by several people who know the language better than I, that women on the feminine side use "-wa" in their speech. And when I saw in the original that Takahiro's mother indeed uses that construction, it seemed as if it was finally revealed to me just what his mother stood for: gentleness and patience, and a quality that overcomes the way that streams of water cut a mountain into ribbons.

For me, reading those lines affirmed why I want to learn to translate — and why I want to learn to read Japanese. Seung often tells me that I must learn to read and listen more closely, the better to see worlds tucked into sentences such as those above. The Letter has helped me to catch a glimpse of these worlds, and affirmed that I want to translate not merely to enjoy and practice reading and writing stories, but also as a way to teach myself to see these things both in the world of texts and the world in which I live. And for having shown me such a thing, I thank P.o.l.c., Wataru, and Seung from the bottom of my heart.

29 November 2008
Irene Ying