Murakami opens up on his latest translation of F. Scott Fitzgerald | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis – 朝日新聞デジタル
As part of his life’s work in making F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books more accessible to Japanese readers, novelist Haruki Murakami has translated and released Fitzgerald’s final novel, “The Last Tycoon,” in Japanese.
While the book was never completed, as Fitzgerald’s life was cut short in 1940 when he suffered a heart attack at age 44, it was published posthumously the next year and has been a source of intrigue and appreciation for fans ever since.
In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun and other media, Murakami admitted it can be something of an acquired taste, especially when compared to Fitzgerald’s most famous work, “The Great Gatsby.”
He said as a young student, “The Last Tycoon” did not seem very impressive to him, but as an adult he has come to find a new appreciation for it as a timeless, if incomplete, work of art.
“The unfinished story appeared less interesting to me in the past than I had expected, although ‘The Great Gatsby’ impressed me deeply in my younger days,” Murakami said. “Reading (‘The Last Tycoon’) after getting older, I found it slowly starts to feel like lukewarm spa water.”
Had it been finished, he said, it would have been an extraordinary work.
The story revolves around the fateful love and fall of influential Hollywood producer Monroe Stahr during the 1930s.
Stahr is born to a poor family but makes a name for himself with his exceptional talents as a hit maker in the rising Hollywood film industry.
However, he is pushed into a corner as the movie business becomes larger and larger, coinciding with the growing communism-inspired labor movement.
One day, Stahr comes across a young woman at a film studio whose appearance reminds him of his departed wife and falls in love with her.
“His stories center on romance, so the protagonists suddenly start loving each other,” Murakami said. “Their sources of energy are extraordinary levels of longing, crazy actions and strong emotions that are difficult to deal with.”
“The Last Tycoon” vividly portrays what Hollywood used to be like, based on the author’s own experiences.
After Fitzgerald became a literary star in the 1920s, his relationship with his wife, Zelda, broke down, and he developed a strong dependence on alcohol and “sold out” by writing scenarios for Hollywood films despite wanting to work on other things.
“He is the type of writer who creates stories while taking advantage of first-person experiences as material,” Murakami said. “He came to Hollywood to face a different environment, and that allowed him to find novel insights.”
Murakami said over time, his writing and characters evolved.
“He had previously only presented female characters resembling Zelda, but he then started trying to depict a new kind of woman. If the story had been completed to the end, it would become a remarkably great novel.”
Murakami has been translating works by Fitzgerald for more than four decades, including his landmark “The Great Gatsby” and five collections of short pieces.
“Romance, or desire for something, is a very important motive for writing novels, and I am drawn to stories presenting that kind of mood,” Murakami said. “Texts arranged well under a good theme are not worth translating unless they have the heart. Even if translated, they would be boring. (But) that type of mood transcends time.”
Murakami’s translated version of “The Last Tycoon” was recently released through the publishing company Chuokoron-Shinsha Inc.
The Japanese edition includes the storyline and notes left behind by Fitzgerald linked to the unfinished part.
But Murakami warns that this title is not recommended for people unfamiliar with Fitzgerald’s work.
“Choosing it (‘The Last Tycoon’) as the first title to go through would make readers confused,” said a grinning Murakami.
“One should check out some short stories first and then go on to read ‘The Great Gatsby.’ After becoming far more interested in the works (by Fitzgerald), you can pick up (‘The Last Tycoon’). In this sense, it can be called a novel for experienced fans.”