Foreign Policy and Translations

Foreign Policy may not be the first magazine you think of when you think of literature in translation, but Britt Peterson put together a really cool set of translation-centric features for the May/June issue.

First off is a piece by Edith Grossman that’s related to her book Why Translation Matters:

The dearth of translated literature in the English-speaking world represents a new kind of iron curtain we have constructed around ourselves. We are choosing to block off access to the writing of a large and significant portion of the world, including movements and societies whose potentially dreadful political impact on us is made even more menacing by our general lack of familiarity with them. Our stubborn and willful ignorance could have—and arguably, already has had—dangerous consequences. The problem starts in the Anglophone publishing industry, where translated books are not only avoided but actively discouraged. [. . .]

Publishers have their excuses, of course. A persistent but not very convincing explanation is that English-language readers are, for some reason, put off by translations. This is nothing but a publishing shibboleth that leads to a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Is a limited readership for translations the reason so few are published in the Anglophone world? Or is that readership limited because English-language publishers provide their readers with so few translations?

To supplement this piece though (which is pretty much lifted from Edie’s aforementioned book), Britt put together a very cool feature called Overcoming the Language Barrier featuring nine translated pieces from around the world:

“I write in a language that has little to do with tulips, windmills, or silly snowmen with carrot noses, a language honed to denote Africa in all its harshness, cruelty, and beauty,” Thomas Dreyer writes in his essay “Not Our Leguaan.” It’s also a language, Afrikaans, that is rarely translated into English—like most languages, in fact, as literary translator Edith Grossman elaborated in her article for our May/June issue, “A New Great Wall.” But Dreyer’s piece, grappling with the complexities of creating art out of the language that once created apartheid, offers a crucial perspective for understanding the affairs of his country, and so do the eight other pieces in our first-ever Foreign Policy translation project.

Here’s the complete list of translated pieces with links to each one:

  • Linguistic Apartheid A South African essayist considers the ugly history of his native tongue. By Thomas Dreyer; translated by Dreyer from the Afrikaans.
  • A Hajj Gone Wrong What if you went to Mecca — and hated it? A story from a Hindi novelist. By Manzoor Ahtesham; translated by Jason Grunebaum and Ulrike Stark from the Hindi.
  • Coming of Age in the Camps A young “quota refugee” from Russia adjusts to life in Germany, from pizza to making new friends, in this first novel by a rising German talent. By Lena Gorelik; translated by Michael Ritterson from the German.
  • A Tale of Two Chinese Cities Why people from Shanghai are so crazy, by one of China’s great environmental historians. By Yang Dongping; translated by Andrea Lingenfelter from the Mandarin.
  • Waking Up to Genocide The slow realization that everything is wrong, told by one of Rwanda’s most promising young novelists. By Gilbert Gatore; translated by Marjolijn de Jager from the French.
  • Going Underground in Israel A great Hebrew novelist tells the tale of a young boy with grandiose — and confused — aspirations to join the political sub-classes. By Benjamin Tammuz; translated by Jessica Cohen from the Hebrew.
  • Diary of an Occupation Entries from the journal of a well-connected French economist, written during the Vichy years in Paris. By Charles Rist; translated by Michele Aynesworth from the French.
  • A Bad Fortune for the Vietnamese A mother’s struggle with the legacy of Agent Orange, from a Vietnamese journalist’s account. By Minh Chuyen; translated by Huy Lien and Charles Waugh from the Vietnamese.
  • Mourning for a Dictator The day Tito died, as witnessed by a young Croatian girl. By Marica Bodrožic; translated by Gerald Chapple from the German.

Very cool, and hopefully this isn’t just a one-off . . . It would be great if FP could run some translated works of nonfiction every so often . . .

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