Discover the shortlist: David Boyd, ‘In translation, you have to inhabit the story’

Shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, David Boyd is translator of Heaven.

Here, he tells us about his adoration for Japanese literature and how music became a common language when translating his shortlisted work. 

David Boyd

Written by David Boyd

What first drew you to working in translation and how do you find translating fiction in particular?

Great writing drew me in. I started reading Japanese literature in translation, and I couldn’t get enough of it. For me, translating fiction is more or less an extension of reading it. Translating means living with a book for a very long time. You really have to inhabit the story.

What’s your earliest reading memory?

I don’t know if it counts as a ‘reading memory’, but I had a copy of Winnie-The-Pooh, which was one of my first books, and I covered it in lots of little stickers that said ‘Property of David’. I guess that’s my earliest book memory.

What did you enjoy most about translating Heaven? What did you find most challenging?

I really enjoyed trying to get inside Kojima’s head. Kojima is the narrator’s closest friend, and she has a very special way of thinking and speaking. Bringing Kojima into English was both the greatest joy and greatest challenge for me.

David Boyd

The real challenge was allowing for the different readings and experiences that are there in Mieko’s novel

Aside from the book, what other writing did you draw inspiration from for your translation?

Music. Since Sam [Bett, Boyd’s co-translator on Heaven] and I were working on this one together, we had to establish a common language. Coming up with a shared soundtrack helped us a lot in that regard.

What steps do you take in your process to marry your work with the author’s, beyond literal translation?

For me, it’s Mieko all the way down. Heaven is such a rich text. Every time I go back to it, I discover something new. The real challenge was allowing for the different readings and experiences that are there in Mieko’s novel.

An interesting fact about the book.

The cover image for the Picador edition was Mieko’s idea. In other words, what you see here is the author’s own vision of the novel’s main characters. That’s not something you see often in published fiction.

Tell us about a book that changed your life.

The Psychic Soviet by Ian Svenonius. It’s brilliant. If you haven’t read it, please do. It will change your life, too.

What book haven’t you finished?

Gravity’s Rainbow.