The Henna Artist, Translated (Part 1 of ?)

June 21, 2022

I recent­ly start­ed trans­lat­ing Eng­lish con­tent into Japan­ese as part of my lessons. My teacher and I are start­ing with a novel called “The Henna Artist”, by Alka Joshi. I think it may be useful to share an anno­tat­ed ver­sion of my work­ing through this home­work. It includes some of my trans­la­tion notes, as well as both the orig­i­nal and cor­rect­ed ver­sions of the trans­la­tion. Expect to see plenty of rudi­men­ta­ry mis­takes, par­tic­u­lar­ly around gram­mar, implied sub­jects, and just plain wrong choic­es of words. Along the way I’ll also note places where I’ve taken styl­is­tic lib­er­ties.

Also there’s no way I’m actu­al­ly trans­lat­ing the whole book — it’s just way too time con­sum­ing. Each para­graph takes me 15-20 min­utes on a good day, and that’s not includ­ing edit­ing it in this format for shar­ing pur­pos­es. I’ll post more as time per­mits, and as it remains help­ful for at least one person, namely me.


Her feet step light­ly on the hard earth, cal­loused soles insen­si­ble to the tiny peb­bles and caked mud along the river­bank. On her head she bal­ances a mutki, the same earth­en­ware jug she uses to carry water from the well every day. Today, instead of water, the girl is car­ry­ing every­thing she owns: a second pet­ti­coat and blouse, her moth­er’s wed­ding sari, The Tales of Krish­na her father used to read to her—the pages fabric-soft from years of han­dling—and the letter that arrived from Jaipur ear­li­er this morn­ing.

Orig­i­nal:

少女の足が石畳みのでこぼこを気が付かずに1川岸を沿えながら、毎日ムットキという水を運ぶための土製の瓶を頭上で釣り合っている2。今日こそ、水の代わりにありったけをはこんでいる: 予備のペチコートとブラウス、母親の結婚式のサリー、クリシュナの伝説という父親が以前よく読みかせたの小説3ー数年の扱いでぺージがぺらぺらになったーそして、今朝ジャイプルから届いた手紙だ。

Edited:

少女の足が石畳みのでこぼこを気にせずに川岸を沿えながら、毎日ムットキという水を運ぶための土製の瓶を頭上でバランスを取っている。今日こそ、水の代わりにありったけをはこんでいる: 予備のペチコートとブラウス、母親の結婚式のサリー、クリシュナの伝説という父親が以前よく読みかせた小説ー数年の扱いでぺージがぺらぺらになったーそして、今朝ジャイプルから届いた手紙だ。

When she hears the voices of the vil­lage women in the dis­tance, the girl hes­i­tates. The gossip-eaters are chat­ting, telling sto­ries, laugh­ing, as they wash saris, vests, pet­ti­coats and dhotis. But when they spot her, she knows they will stop to stare or spit at the ground, implor­ing God to pro­tect them from the Bad Luck Girl. She reminds her­self of the letter, safe inside the mutki, and thinks, Let them. It will be the last time.

Orig­i­nal:

村の女達の声が聞こえると、しばらく躊躇う。ゴシップ食い4たちがしゃべったり、話を聞かしたり、洗濯しながら笑っている。もし彼女に逢ったら、必ず彼女を睨む5。また、唾を吐いて疫病神の彼女を防ぐよう神様を願うことを知っている6ムットキのなかに安全である手紙7を思いついて、「勝手にしろ、最後だから」と思う。

Edited:

村の女達の声が聞こえると、しばらく躊躇う。ゴシップ食いたちがしゃべったり、話を聞かしたり、洗濯しながら笑っている。女たちはもし彼女に遭ったら、彼女は必ず睨まれて唾を吐かれて疫病神の彼女を防ぐよう神様を祈られることを知っているムットキのなかの安全である手紙を思いついて、「勝手にしろ、最後だから」と思う。

Yes­ter­day, the women were harangu­ing the head­man: Why is the Bad Luck Girl still living in the school­teacher’s hut when we need it for the new school­mas­ter? Afraid to make a sound for fear they would come inside and pull her out by her hair, the girl had remained per­fect­ly still within the four mud walls. There was no one to pro­tect her now. Last week, her moth­er’s body had been burned along with the bones of other dead ani­mals, the funer­al pyre of the poor. Her father, the former school­teacher, had aban­doned them six months ago, and short­ly after, he drowned in a shal­low pool of water along the river­bank, so drunk he likely hadn’t felt the sting of death.

Orig­i­nal:

昨日、村の女達は村長を非難した。「何で彼女はまだ校長の家にすんでいるの8新校長で9必要なんじゃないか?」家の中にはいて髪を掴んで外に引っかかられない10ように彼女がそこのままでじっとした11守られる人12もういないんだから。先週、母親の死体が獣骨と一緒に燃えられた。それが貧民の火葬だった。元先生の父親は 6 ヶ月前妻子を廃置して、すぐ後に死の棘を感じられないほど酔っていて、川沿の水たまりで溺れた。

Edited:

昨日、村の女達は村長を非難した。「何で彼女はまだ校長の家にすんでいるの?新校長のために必要なんじゃないか?」家の中にはいて髪を掴んで外に引っ張られないように彼女がそこにじっとした彼女を守る人はもういないんだから。先週、母親の死体が獣骨と一緒に燃やされた。それが貧民の火葬だった。元先生の父親は 6 ヶ月前妻子を放置して、すぐ後に死の棘を感じられないほど酔っていて、川沿の水たまりで溺れた。


  1. 気が付かずに to 気がせずに. The nuance here is that 気が付く means to notice some­thing (and its nega­tion: with­out notic­ing) and 気にする is to mind some­thing. Here, the girl prob­a­bly feels the ground under her feet, so she notices it, but pays it no heed. There­fore, 気にせずに is more appro­pri­ate.
  2. Instead of 釣り合う, we use バランスを取る to describe bal­anc­ing a single thing, instead of bal­anc­ing mul­ti­ple things (lit­er­al­ly or metaphor­i­cal­ly. Bal­anc­ing the budget, for exam­ple, is 「収支が釣り合う」.
  3. The の in 読みかせたの小説 is unnec­es­sary.
  4. 「ゴスップ喰い」 is a phrase I made up to trans­late “gossip-eater”. Anoth­er pos­si­ble trans­la­tion is 「噂好き」, or “gossip-phile”.
  5. I’ve tra­di­tion­al­ly had prob­lems with tran­si­tiv­i­ty, espe­cial­ly with longer, more com­pli­cat­ed sen­tences. Here, I con­fused the sub­jects and tried to con­tin­ue using the vil­lage women as the sub­ject, in 「もし彼女に逢ったら、必ず彼女を睨む。」 and the next sen­tence, which ends with 「知っている」. This is wrong because, the sub­ject who “knows” this is the girl, not the vil­lage women. To remedy this, it may be better to explic­it­ly indi­cate the sub­jects at each junc­ture. First­ly, with 女たちはもし彼女に遭ったら, the sub­ject is the vil­lage women (if the women meets/​spots the girl), and then switch­ing the sub­ject to the girl by re-using「は」, as in 「彼女は必ず睨まれて」. Because the sub­ject is the girl in the second part of the sen­tence, all the described actions need to be changed to their pas­sive form, to describe the actions being per­formed by the women onto the girl, such as 「睨まれて」 (to be stared at), 「唾を吐かれて」 (to be spit at, I took a little bit of a lib­er­ty here to omit the fact that the vil­lage women was spit­ting at the ground in response to seeing her, intead of actu­al­ly spit­ting AT her).
  6. The trick­i­est bit here might be 「疫病神の彼女を防ぐよう神様を祈られる」. Let’s break this phrase down a bit. The phrase in Eng­lish is “implor­ing God to pro­tect them from the Bad Luck Girl”. There’s a sub-phrase here: 「疫病神の彼女を防ぐ」. Here, The sub­ject is God, and the object is 「疫病神の彼女」, which lit­er­al­ly means “jinx girl” — that is, “God, pro­tect us against Bad Luck Girl”. This sub-phrase is in turn the wish, demar­cat­ed with 「よう」, that is made to God, as in 「神を祈られる」. Why is 「祈る」 used in its pas­sive form here? This is a nuanced usage of the Japan­ese pas­sive form to indi­cate dis­plea­sure with some­body else’s actions. Read more about it. Here, the sub­ject (the girl) is assumed to be less than happy that the vil­lage women are pray­ing in this manner, and thus the action of pray­ing is con­ju­gat­ed to its pas­sive form to indi­cate this dis­plea­sure.
  7. The last one is a change of par­ti­cle from 「ムットキのなかに安全である手紙」 to 「ムットキのなかの安全である手紙」. 「ムットキのなか」 is a noun, and so 「の」 is required.
  8. Ending the wom­en’s dia­logue with 「の」 in 「何で彼女はまだ校長の家にすんでいるの?」 is typ­i­cal of fem­i­nine speech.
  9. 「で」 as used after 「新校長」 to mean “For the reason of”. How­ev­er in this case, if the reason is itself a person, 「ために」 is more nat­ur­al.
  10. 「引っ掛かる」is the com­plete­ly wrong verb to use here — it means “to latch onto some­thing/​get hooked onto some­thing”. A more appro­pri­ate verb would be “引っ張る”: “to pull, with the nuance of doing so forcibly/​against the sub­jec­t’s will”.
  11. 「そこのままで」 is incor­rect, as まま can only be append­ed onto a verb, so either change it to 「そこにいるままでじっとした」 or remove it com­plete­ly, as in 「そこにじっとした」.
  12. The next sen­tence is also changed from the pas­sive usage of 「守られる人」 to indi­cat­ing the sub­ject explic­it­ly as the girl 「彼女を守る人」. The sub­ject in the pre­vi­ous two sen­tences is the vil­lage women, and not chang­ing the sub­ject explic­it­ly here would make read­ers assume that that sub­ject in this sen­tence is also the vil­lage women, which is not the case here.