English translations of Japanese books have found an enthusiastic audience around the world, but the contribution of the translator is sometimes overlooked in discussions and reviews in the English media. While the author is undoubtedly the star of the show, the translator's role is much more than that of a bit player. The job comes with its own set of challenges.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Louise Heal Kawai has published 10 well-received translations of Japanese books, but notes that her name has yet to appear on the cover with that of the author.
"I particularly enjoy works with a strong or quirky first-person narrator. I love capturing that voice," says Kawai, whose accomplishments include channeling a 10-year-old boy for Mieko Kawakami's "Ms Ice Sandwich." Her 2018 translation of "Seventeen," Hideo Yokoyama's powerful novel based around the Japan Airlines Flight 123 plane crash in 1985, was recently nominated for two literary prizes.