Translation Makes an American Slave Memoir a Bestseller in Japan

A memoir of a woman enslaved in 19th Century North Carolina might not be something you would expect to become a bestseller in Japan, a country that is largely ethnically homogenous , and where there is not much awareness of slavery in the USA. However, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs is now in its eighth hardback edition and has seen sales of 25,000 copies in the month since it was first published as paperback.

The book is an account of slavery from a female perspective, of a slave who escaped to the North, becoming a nurse in New York City, then. Later she worked in the antislavery reading room above the newspaper of the African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass and undertook lecture tours. Her account is the earliest first-hand account of slavery written by an African American woman, originally being published in 1861 by Jacobs herself.

The translator, Yuki Horikoshi, first came across the work when, on a business trip, she was looking for something inspirational to read. Finding the book and downloading it onto her smartphone, she became fascinated by its account, feeling that it gave her a better understanding of this aspect of US history than she had gained during the time she spent going to school there. Despite not having a background in literature or translation and the scepticism of publishers, she went about translating the text herself.

The translator partially attributes the popularity of the book to the fact that the account by the author of the treatment of female slaves by men finds resonance with those women who themselves have been victims of gender inequality and sexual harassment. Indeed, Jacobs details the sexual violence and exploitation she and other female slaves endured, giving a clear account of the brutality they and their children faced. Despite this, the translator sees the story as offering inspiration, its author having been successful in her struggle against great adversity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *