Thursday, February 17, 2011

Noir or Post-Modern? More on THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X

From the film "Suspect X"
Translator Alexander O. Smith and adaptation pro Elye J. Alexander visited Kingdom Books today, as part of the long follow-up conversation on the review we shared for the book they brought into English together, THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X by award-winning Japanese novelist Keigo Higashino. Process for this pair of seasoned collaborators involves multiple transitions among languages and "language." Smith, who is fluent in Japanese (lived in Japan, studied there, married there), does a rough translation with plenty of side notes adding dimension; then Elye Alexander, whose background is in English and American literature (as well as custom house building), transforms the material into a more finished text. Obviously there's a lot of back-and-forth, sometimes including a Japanese author's input, in this process -- the team, with more members (, has a number of novels, video games, and card-based role-playing games to its credit in transferring meaning from one culture and tongue to another.

Although I felt frustrated with Higashino's book, I'm seeing it from new angles as I learn more about this author's track record as well as the translation process. There's no question that THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X belongs in the "noir" category of crime fiction -- gritty, blunt, at times grim, suspenseful. But it's also probably best seen as part of the post-modern movement in fiction. Moreover, Smith pointed out that he retained many of the Japanese habits of exposition in this translation, habits that reaffirm the "we" aspect of being Japanese: confirming that people understand each other and are on the same page, so to speak.

Here's a Boston Globe review of the book that tackles it from yet another direction:

If you're in or near Vermont, you can meet Alex Smith and Elye Alexander on March 24 in St. Johnsbury, at what promises to be an exciting presentation -- here's the press release:
Secrets of translation and adaptation for a murder thriller, fantasy fiction, video games, and fantasy-based card-playing games come to St. Johnsbury Academy on Thursday March 24 at 3:30 p.m., as Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander present their work for students and the public, in the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library.

Often translation is a hidden art, but Smith and Alexander, both Vermont residents, found their work getting international attention this year as Macmillan/St. Martin's Press published their version of Keigo Higashino's award-winning detective mystery "The Devotion of Suspect X." How do they transform Japanese literature into "good reading" for English-speaking readers? What choices do they make around the author's original phrasing and pacing?

Through Kajiya Productions, Smith and Alexander also translate video and online games, as well as speculative fiction, poems, and even songs. Smith is an alum of Dartmouth with graduate work at Harvard, and Alexander is a Harvard alum, but the two men first met in grade school in Craftsbury, Vermont.

This event is co-sponsored by St. Johnsbury Academy faculty members in Creative Writing, English, Japanese, and Visual Arts, and hosted by the school's library, with support from Kingdom Books, who will make books available after the event.

The Grace Stuart Orcutt Library is handicap accessible. For more information, contact librarian Linda Wooster at 802-751-2100.

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