Daniel Hahn on Translatedfiction.org.uk

The Literary Saloon pointed out another new UK-based translation site: this time Booktrust’s Translated Ficion. One of the first articles on the site is from Daniel Hahn, translator of one of my favorite authors, Jose Eduardo Agualusa.

He has a refreshingly different take on the low number of translations that appear in the UK (we have the same problem here):

But given a choice between on the one hand transforming those 3% into a market share of, say, 6%, and on the other remaining at 3% and doubling the readership for each of those fine books we’re already translating, I’d choose the latter without hesitation.

and then a bit later:

We should be persuading readers to read more bravely whatever the language; instead of bemoaning the paltriness of the 3% quota, we should be talking passionately about those culture-expanding books that are being published and how damn good they are. (And many of them – as it happens – are translations.) We should celebrate them, these many, many varied triumphs. You absolutely must read the most wonderful novel I’ve just discovered…

His argument is a good one (and I especially agree with his point about the mistake of grouping translations as if they were a monolithic genre) but within limits. That is to say, it’s a good argument for how to proceed from where we are now (moving from few translations with a smallish readership to few translations with a larger readership), but it seems to me that that can only be the first step, not the end of the discussion.

In the first place, as Chad has documented, we’re somewhere far, far short of that 3% number (and there is no way that 6000 translations came out in the UK last year—the 3% of the 200,00 Hahn said were published). If we’re at a low number of translations, and it’s a very low number, then the likelihood of that ‘adventurous’ reader stumbling upon a translation is also very low, even if we double the number of adventurous readers out there. The likelihood of those books getting good attention (from publishers, the media, booksellers) is proportionally low, especially when those publishers who publish the translations are not the ones with large marketing/media budgets, or, when they are, that money is generally not going to translations.

I don’t think we can raise awareness for what it is we’re doing without simultaneously doing more of it. The more translations (of all kinds) that are available, the more the cultural playing field can be leveled, and the better chance we have of garnering some attention for those books. By publishing more translations, you’re increasing the chances that one of those translations will break into the larger public consciousness.

Anyway, Hahn’s article is well worth the read. I suggest you take a look, and best of luck to Booktrust, it seems like it’s off to a rousing start.

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