When you write, do you hear voices in your head? Do the words on the page turn color? Do they fly?

When I was writing The Kimono Tattoo, the scenes unfurled on the screen of my imagination. They were most vibrant when I went out for my morning run. There must be something about the pulsing of the blood through my veins, the pounding against my temples that made the scenes rush forward in a tumble of images and voices. Perhaps the intense focus on pushing ahead funneled my energy into the chambers of my imagination. Or maybe it was just the lack of oxygen!

I was excited to see The Kimono Tattoo finally published. Holding it, fanning through the pages, made me flush with joy. But then, there was something almost too final about the moment. The scenes stopped rushing through me. There was a sense of stasis. The running was over.

When I learned my book was scheduled to appear in audio form, I felt a twinge of the earlier excitement. We were moving again. At the same time, I was skeptical. Would it sound right? Would the narrator understand the voices in my head? Would she run, too? What about all those Japanese words? What if she mangled the pronunciation? Truly, there are fewer things more annoying to me than fake Southern accents and mangled Japanese pronunciation!

When I learned my book was scheduled to appear in audio form, I felt a twinge of the earlier excitement. We were moving again. At the same time, I was skeptical. Would it sound right? Would the narrator understand the voices in my head?

A few weeks after I learned the book was being recorded, the narrator, Theresa Bakken, sent me a sample. I was surprised that she’d recorded Chapter Three since it’s the most complex chapter in the book. Its where I experimented with different narrative styles: diary, letter, a story-within-a-story. There are also different axes of time and three different first-person narrators. There was all that and the Japanese words: proper names, terms, and titles. I was certain the audio would be a disaster.

Theresa Bakken
Narrator Theresa Bakken. Credit: Anna Bakken

I loaded the snippet on my phone and curled up in bed, prepared to be disappointed. I was immobile, frozen in place. But Theresa’s voice was warm and textured. It soared and dipped and glided, speeding up here, pausing there. When Theresa came to the line:

The sun was bright above him. I could almost taste the salt in the air and feel the breeze tangling his hair.
Her voice carried the color of the scene, the brightness, the élan. I could taste the salt. I could feel the wind.
Not only did Theresa understand the voices in my head, she established a dialog with them. She entered the words, she traveled through the spaces between the words, she breathed my characters into life. Under her narration scenes sparked and flashed. I was stunned, almost teary as I listened. The novel, my novel was not static, it was moving through space.

Enjoying Theresa’s narration and talking to her later in her Desideratum podcast, I felt I understood for the first time what it meant to translate.

Translation is reading, it is breathing, it is listening. I’ve translated from Japanese to English time and again, but I’ve never experienced what it is like to be translated. My written words now reverberate with a spoken voice or voices. Theresa’s narration gives sound to the many different characters and moods that enter and exit the pages of The Kimono Tattoo. Not in a gimmicky, radio-drama way, but with subtlety and nuance. In her narration, the characters breathe, they get up and move. As one translator to another, I am grateful to Theresa for transporting The Kimono Tattoo into another language, another world.

The audiobook of The Kimono Tattoo is available today, April 26, 2022. Have a listen!

And look forward to the final chapter when you meet Theresa’s surprising Scottish accent!

Learn more about Theresa Bakken and her velvet voice!