Better than any review: Spring Snow – A Translation

Spring Snow - A Translation, by Alison Turnbull

Spring Snow – A Translation, is a beautiful aritst’s book by contemporary visual artist Alison Turnbull, which was published by Book Works in 2002. Here’s the blurb from the Book Works online catalogue.

‘Alison Turnbull takes Japanese author Yukio Mishima’s novel Spring Snow as a starting point to produce Spring Snow – A Translation, which is literally a visual translation ordered by colour. Drawing on Mishima’s evocative use of colour in the novel, Turnbull condenses the narrative into a colour palette. Working from the English edition, she isolates and orders each of the more than six hundred colours as they appear in the text – what emerges is a visual essay on the nature of translation.’

I wrote a short work of fiction ‘Spring Snow: Mukashi-Banashi’ for the book’s introduction, using cut-ups from Timothy Lea’s Confessions of a Private Soldier and peripheral texts from Lafcadio Hearn’s Kotto: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs, as well as information about dock strikes in London and Japan in 1896 and 1997 respectively. In this story the narrator, ‘Tony White,’ asks whether, ‘leaders are forged in the crucible of circumstance or whether they emerge from youth fully formed and are themselves the blacksmiths [… In] another time, in different circumstances,’ the story continues, ‘who could say whether Kimitake Hiraoka’s pride and zeal might not have been warped beyond recognition. Instead of a mighty figure on the stage of worker liberation, he might have become […] a swooning fascist.’

In my story Alison Turnbull herself is also recast as an acolyte and contemporary of this parallel universe Mishima. She sends a portfolio of her colour translation of Spring Snow to ‘Tony White’ after their fateful meeting on a train out of Yokohama in 1929, and maintains ‘a fitful correspondence’ with the narrator until her death in 1973. The story ends with the reflection that, ‘it must indeed be gratifying to the publisher to bring it back into print for a new generation that is making its own discovery of Japan.’

Better than any review, some pleasing ripples in the multiverse resulted from the publication of this book; some responding to the gravitational tug of fiction, others to the pull of non-fiction.

Firstly, a couple of writer friends who read Spring Snow – A Translation assumed that the entire project was the fiction, not just my short introduction. They thought that I had not only created that text and this book, but also therefore the character and oeuvre of Alison Turnbull.

Conversely, when searching the British Library‘s catalogue to send information about Spring Snow – A Translation to a reader and colleague who had requested it, I discovered that rather delightfully the British Library have attributed authorship of Spring Snow – A Translation to the fictional ‘Alison Turnbull’ described in my story, who ‘died’ in 1973, rather than to the real Alison Turnbull who is very much alive and represented by Matt’s Gallery, London. Here is a screen-grab of the British Library catalogue record for the book.

British Library catalogue entry for Spring Snow - A Translation, by Alison Turnbull

You can buy Spring Snow – A Translation by the real Alison Turnbull from Book Works online shop here.