In fact, to be truthful, I didn’t even realise that it was common practice to remove text from novels in the process of translation. I was alerted to this possibility when I read some readers’ reviews of the book ‘Grotesque’ by the Japanese writer, Natsuo Kirino, on Amazon. I had previously read another novel, ‘Out’, by the same author and had enjoyed it greatly and was therefore looking forward to reading this one.
However, some of the Amazon comments on ‘Grotesque’ warned that the text has been “censored” and that the ending had been altered. After a bit of Googling I found lots of comments elsewhere on the Internet complaining of the same thing. Even the book’s entry in Wikipedia asserts that “Publisher Knopf censored the American translation, removing a section involving underage male prostitution, as it was considered too taboo for U. S. audiences.”
I am used to the idea of organizations dedicated to restricting censoring selected bits the Internet. But could it really be true, I wondered, that a book publisher would silently censor a translation of a novel by a well respected Japanese author in order to save the blushes of American readers? The person who should know the answer to that question is the book’s translator, Rebecca Copeland, a professor Japanese Language & Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. I emailed Dr Copeland to ask if the ‘censorship’ rumours were true and, if so, whether the UK edition of the book was any less censored than the US version.
She informed me that, to the best of her knowledge, the UK and US editions are the same. She says that neither publisher ‘censored’ the translation, as has been suggested but that the translation was edited to make it slightly briefer (which, she tells me, is not an uncommon practice). The ’most aggressive’ edits came in the last chapter of the book. But the ending was not really ‘changed’ just shortened.
She says that she would have preferred not cutting anything but does not think that the edits changed the overall artistry or message of the novel. It amuses her that readers would think the edits were to avoid ‘offending’ readers. The novel includes rape, incest, murder, terrorism, male and female prostitution, sexual deviance, etc. Any one of these issues might offend readers.
I have my own views as to whether it is possible to shorten a book without really changing it. But does this sort of ‘editing’ really count as ‘censorship’? What do you think...?