18 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Lisa Boscov-Ellen on Thomas Glavinic’s The Camera Killer, which is translated from the German by John Brownjohn and published by AmazonCrossing.

Lisa Boscov-Ellen is another MA student here at the University of Rochester, and translates from Spanish. She was also in my class last semester (and this one!), where she wrote this fairly negative review . . .

The Camera Killer by Austrian writer Thomas Glavinic, translated by John Brownjohn, is a psychological thriller that was first published in 2003 as Der Kameramörde. The unnamed narrator travels to the region of West Styria over Easter weekend with his “partner” Sonja to stay with their friends, Eva and Heinrich Stubenrauch. Shortly after they arrive, the two couples hear about an appalling crime committed nearby, which they and the rest of the public are compelled to follow in the news over the weekend, each with differing reactions. The original report is that a man forced “two children of seven and eight to kill themselves by jumping from tall trees and filmed those crimes with a video camera. A third boy, the deceased children’s nine-year-old brother, managed to escape.” More information is gradually released, such as the fact that the surviving boy is in an induced coma and the mother has been institutionalized, and the video of the crime is even broadcast to the public on the news. The novel (really on the border of being a novella) focuses on the reactions of the four individuals as they follow the manhunt and the media sensationalism of the event.

The disturbing premise is certainly absorbing, and the book is by no means a standard thriller or detective story. However, despite the low page count (it’s just over 100 pages), the book seemed to drag on. Glavinic appears to be equally interested in the ability of his characters to continue on with their ordinary activities and concerns in spite of the horror that edges in. A pretty standard passage reads as follows:

“Heinrich and I put up the net. We marked out the court with discarded articles of clothing and broken twigs stuck in the ground (those of the previous day that had been dislodged by the wind or the nocturnal rainstorm). We also flattened the grass at the edge of the court by treading it down.”

“The wicker basket was unpacked by my partner and Eva. My partner extolled the fact that our short walk there had refreshed her and said we should at once devote the time that remained before the storm broke to playing doubles. We duly did so. Team Heinrich/self beat Team Eva/my partner 15:6. Heinrich pronounced this pointless; the difference in level of ability was too glaring. So we changed partners. My partner and I were narrowly defeated (11:15) by the Stubenrauchs.”

The book follows events like this, with a focus on minute and mundane details, until an arrest is made.

Click here to read the full review.

18 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Camera Killer by Austrian writer Thomas Glavinic, translated by John Brownjohn, is a psychological thriller that was first published in 2003 as Der Kameramörde. The unnamed narrator travels to the region of West Styria over Easter weekend with his “partner” Sonja to stay with their friends, Eva and Heinrich Stubenrauch. Shortly after they arrive, the two couples hear about an appalling crime committed nearby, which they and the rest of the public are compelled to follow in the news over the weekend, each with differing reactions. The original report is that a man forced “two children of seven and eight to kill themselves by jumping from tall trees and filmed those crimes with a video camera. A third boy, the deceased children’s nine-year-old brother, managed to escape.” More information is gradually released, such as the fact that the surviving boy is in an induced coma and the mother has been institutionalized, and the video of the crime is even broadcast to the public on the news. The novel (really on the border of being a novella) focuses on the reactions of the four individuals as they follow the manhunt and the media sensationalism of the event.

The disturbing premise is certainly absorbing, and the book is by no means a standard thriller or detective story. However, despite the low page count (it’s just over 100 pages), the book seemed to drag on. Glavinic appears to be equally interested in the ability of his characters to continue on with their ordinary activities and concerns in spite of the horror that edges in. A pretty standard passage reads as follows:

Heinrich and I put up the net. We marked out the court with discarded articles of clothing and broken twigs stuck in the ground (those of the previous day that had been dislodged by the wind or the nocturnal rainstorm). We also flattened the grass at the edge of the court by treading it down.

The wicker basket was unpacked by my partner and Eva. My partner extolled the fact that our short walk there had refreshed her and said we should at once devote the time that remained before the storm broke to playing doubles. We duly did so. Team Heinrich/self beat Team Eva/my partner 15:6. Heinrich pronounced this pointless; the difference in level of ability was too glaring. So we changed partners. My partner and I were narrowly defeated (11:15) by the Stubenrauchs.

The book follows events like this, with a focus on minute and mundane details, until an arrest is made. The Camera Killer relies perhaps more on what is not said than on what the narrator describes, but the tone doesn’t entirely work. These detailed descriptions, the flat and stilted tone, and the disappointing dénouement detract from the author’s intriguing and Kafka-esque approach. The narrator comes off as cold and robotic, and I imagine that is a deliberate choice to create contrast between the low-key prose and the intensity of the situation rather than a failure on the part of the writer or translator, but the narrator makes a rather dull robot. Rather than being chilling in its banality, it’s just bland.

The narrator is not the only one without much of a personality; the women—or “womenfolk” as they are often referred to—do little more than prepare food, think about food, act scared, and nag the men. Heinrich is the only one with any defining characteristics and that’s basically that he’s an irritating, inconsiderate jerk. The most intriguing character was probably the “fancy-dress cat” that occasionally appears around the house.

It is possible that part of the problem is the translation, although I do not have the knowledge of German to determine if that is the case. Both Glavinic and Brownjohn have received critical acclaim in the past, and this is the third time Brownjohn has published a translation of Glavinic’s work. In fact, Brownjohn has translated over 200 books and has received multiple awards, including the Schlegel-Tieck Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize. Glavinic has achieved both critical and commercial success; his book Das bin doch ich (“That’s Me”), was short-listed for the German Book Prize, How to Live (Wie man lebel soll) reached the top of the Austrian best-seller list, and the original version of The Camera Killer, Der Kameramörde, was awarded the Friedrich-Glauser Prize for crime fiction. Nonetheless, there were moments that sounded a bit strange in English, for example: “Masticating, she said it was a glorious day and it mustn’t be spoiled by talk of murder and so on; Eva should bring influence to bear on Heinrich in that regard,” “We betook ourselves to the Café Wurm, surveyed the tables in the garden without sighting our womenfolk, and went inside,” or when the cameraman threatens to “pay the family a visit on October 31st and Halloween them all to death.” The frequent use of “my partner” and “womenfolk” was somewhat irritating, although I suspect that is more likely true to the original.

Perhaps some of my disappointment was due to the fact that the jacket copy described it as “gripping,” which it is not. The twist at the end of the book is very important, and unfortunately I anticipated this surprise quite early on in the book. I’m not convinced that everyone will, and I think my dissatisfaction upon reaching the final lines is absolutely influenced by the fact that I expected them. Overall, I didn’t feel that I wasted the small amount of time it took to get through this short thriller, as it was unique and at times very-well written. However, monotonous narration and occasionally awkward phrasing led me to wish that Glavinic had considered writing The Camera Killer as a short story instead.

5 December 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Larissa Kyzer on Audur Ava Olafsdottir’s The Greenhouse, which is available from AmazonCrossing in Brian FitzGibbon’s translation from the Icelandic.

As Larissa—one of our excellent contributing reviewers, who loves the Scandinavian and is starting to learn Icelandic—points out at the beginning of her review, this is the first of ten (yes, ten) Icelandic works that AmazonCrossing will be bringing out over the next year. A few are announced on their site (a little place called Amazon.com that you may have heard of), and of the forthcoming titles, the one I’ve heard is most amazing is The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason (who is an incredible writer).

This is great news for the Icelandic literary scene, and will surely bring a lot more attention to the non-crime fiction writers one can find there. (Such as Bragi Olafsson and Kristin Omarsdottir, two Open Letter authors you should all read.)

Here’s the opening of Larissa’s very positive review:

2011 has been a banner year for Icelandic literature on the international stage. “Fabulous Iceland” was this year’s guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and in August, UNESCO named the Reykjavík as one of its five Cities of Literature—the only such city where English is not the native language. Perhaps even more notable for American readers, however, was the recent announcement that Amazon’s new publishing imprint, AmazonCrossing, will release an astounding ten Icelandic titles in new English translations over the next year. Judging by the press’ first Icelandic selection, The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, English-readers can look forward to a catalog of remarkable Icelandic titles in the coming months.

At once wryly observant and sweetly comic, The Greenhouse is a meditation on such sweeping themes as sex, death, becoming a parent, manhood, and finding a place for oneself in the world which doesn’t once fall prey to cloying generalizations or cliche. Rather, through the eyes of twenty-two year old Arnljótur Thórir—or Lobbi, as his elderly father affectionately calls him—author Audur Ava Olafsdottir breathes a freshness and sincerity into her subject matter which is as charming as it is insightful.

The novel opens with a birth and a death. Having lost his mother in a car accident just a year earlier, Lobbi is also adjusting to his unexpected new role as father. His first child, Flóra Sól, is the product of the unlikely indiscretion of “one quarter of a night, not even, a fifth, more like it.” His mother’s death and the birth of his daughter both take place on the same day, which also happens to be his mother’s birthday. Lobbi’s father ascribes this confluence to “some intricate system,” while his son dismisses the coincidences as meaningless chance. “In my experience,” he sagely remarks, “as soon as you think you’ve got one thing figured out, something completely different happens.”

To read the whole piece, simply click here.

5 December 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

2011 has been a banner year for Icelandic literature on the international stage. “Fabulous Iceland” was this year’s guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and in August, UNESCO named the Reykjavík as one of its five Cities of Literature—the only such city where English is not the native language. Perhaps even more notable for American readers, however, was the recent announcement that Amazon’s new publishing imprint, AmazonCrossing, will release an astounding ten Icelandic titles in new English translations over the next year. Judging by the press’ first Icelandic selection, The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, English-readers can look forward to a catalog of remarkable Icelandic titles in the coming months.

At once wryly observant and sweetly comic, The Greenhouse is a meditation on such sweeping themes as sex, death, becoming a parent, manhood, and finding a place for oneself in the world which doesn’t once fall prey to cloying generalizations or cliche. Rather, through the eyes of twenty-two year old Arnljótur Thórir—or Lobbi, as his elderly father affectionately calls him—author Audur Ava Olafsdottir breathes a freshness and sincerity into her subject matter which is as charming as it is insightful.

The novel opens with a birth and a death. Having lost his mother in a car accident just a year earlier, Lobbi is also adjusting to his unexpected new role as father. His first child, Flóra Sól, is the product of the unlikely indiscretion of “one quarter of a night, not even, a fifth, more like it.” His mother’s death and the birth of his daughter both take place on the same day, which also happens to be his mother’s birthday. Lobbi’s father ascribes this confluence to “some intricate system,” while his son dismisses the coincidences as meaningless chance. “In my experience,” he sagely remarks, “as soon as you think you’ve got one thing figured out, something completely different happens.”

This statement ends up being wiser than Lobbi could imagine, as all of his best laid plans and worldviews are systematically upended throughout the novel. Feeling himself to be somewhat superfluous in the life of his daughter, and at loose ends with his father and autistic twin brother at home, Lobbi decides that rather than go to college, he will travel to a remote (unnamed) village monastery abroad to work as an gardener. Although he is generally indecisive and frequently unsure of himself, the decision is not a difficult one. Lobbi was “more or less brought up in a greenhouse” by his mother, who shared with her son a knack for cultivating tomatoes, flowers, and roses where once had only been “a flat stretch of barren land with rocks surrounded by wind-scattered pebbles.”

Lobbi is not even out of Reykjavík when his plans begin to go awry. He falls ill on the plane and must be hospitalized upon landing. Once recovered, he rents a car and begins his long journey, only to find himself lost in a deep forest and unexpectedly transporting an inn-keeper’s daughter to her drama class, 350 kilometers out of his way. Finally arriving at his destination, he finds solace in the monastery garden and a mentor in a monk with a love of dessert liqueurs and art house cinema. But he has not been working at the garden long when he is contacted by the mother of his child, an aspiring geneticist who would like Lobbi to “bear [his] part of the responsibility” and help her look after Flóra Sól while she completes her thesis. Thus, in very short order, Lobbi finds himself living with a woman, raising a daughter, learning to cook, and hopefully, figuring out what he wants to do with his life.

The Greenhouse is a meandering novel and although there are quite a few happenings throughout the narrative, not much actually “happens” per se, and nor does it need to. Lobbi’s daily negotiations of quotidian responsibilities are so sweetly related that something as simple as making dinner can become a rich, humorous, and illustrative moment. From Brian FitzGibbon’s seamless translation, it is clear that Audur Ava is a beautiful prose stylist who uses simple and straightforward language and imagery to convey complex emotions and observations. Interspersing scenes from Lobbi’s daily life with reflective moments from his past—the last conversation he had with his mother, sitting up and watching his daughter sleep the night that she was born—Audur Ava creates a fully realized portrait of a young man coming into himself without even really being aware of his own transformation.

The Greenhouse is a novel about finding beauty in the everyday, in simple moments and acts—in making dinner, and planting roses, and helping a child learn to walk. It is a story of creating meaning in one’s own life, especially in the face of chance and coincidence.

14 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

At a press conference earlier this week, AmazonCrossing and Fabulous Iceland announced that Amazon would be publishing ten Icelandic titles in the near future, starting with The Greenhouse (which we featured here).

Here’s the official announcement:

“The Icelandic series from AmazonCrossing will ensure that the guest country will still be present on the international book market once the Book Fair has come and gone,” said Halldór Guðmundsson, director of Fabulous Iceland, at a press conference given to announce that AmazonCrossing, a new imprint of Amazon Publishing dedicated to foreign works in translation, had resolved to publish ten Icelandic titles in the near future.

The series will kick off with The Greenhouse by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Hallgrímur Helgason’s The Hitman’s Guide to Iceland. Both authors appeared at the conference. Also slated for publication are works by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Árni Þórarinsson, Vilborg Davíðsdóttir and Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, with more to be announced in early 2012.

Translated books comprise less than three percent of titles published in the United States and United Kingdom. “This figure is too small, by a long shot,” Jon Fine of AmazonCrossing said, adding that the imprint’s aim was to improve the ratio of foreign translation on the English-speaking market. “There are wonderful stories in Iceland and around the world that are not accessible to English speakers. We want to translate these extraordinary international literary works and authors and introduce them to new audiences worldwide.”

18 October 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, with a little luck I’ll be able to post a lot of new content later this week during the American Literary Translators Conference. This is one of my favorite conferences of the year, in part because of all the cool people there, in part because the panels tend to be pretty interesting. I’ll post more about this separately (maybe). For now, here’s another post from the Publishing Perspectives Frankfurt Show Daily. It’s all about AmazonCrossing, which we’ve written about before, but in this case I had a chance to interview the Amazon.com Books VP Jeff Belle and talk a bit about the unique way Amazon is looking for their titles.

In the world of translation publishing, one of the more interesting developments of the past year was the launching of AmazonCrossing, a new initiative of Amazon.com Books. The imprint’s first book—The King of Kahel by Tierno Monenembo—goes on sale November 2nd, and a second batch of six titles was announced late last month.

According to Amazon.com Books Vice President Jeff Belle, the seed of AmazonCrossing was planted a couple years back when he read a report by translator extraordinaire Esther Allen about the “three percent problem”—the fact that, of all the books published in the US, only three percent are works in translation. As Belle stated, this dismal statistic “is really at odds with Amazon’s vision of making every book in every language available to our customers.” Allen educated Amazon about the translation market, leading Amazon to start funding translations through the “Author & Publisher Giving Program,” and to launch AmazonCrossing to “discover great voices of the world that have not been translated into English and introduce them to [Amazon’s] English-speaking customers.”

Amazon.com has been moving in the direction of publishing for some time now, first with a couple of self-publishing options—CreateSpace (formerly BookSurge) is a print option, and any author/publisher can sell their eBooks through Amazon’s Kindle program. In a somewhat more traditional publishing vein, there’s also AmazonEncore, through which Amazon uses information such as customer reviews to identify “exceptional, overlooked books and authors” that deserve to have their works reintroduced to readers. These titles are available both in print and Kindle formats.

In some ways, AmazonCrossing is an extension of the Encore program, with Amazon acquiring rights and responsible for the marketing of these books. What’s interesting is that they’ve chosen to pursue international works—a category that many of commercial publishers shy away from. As Jeff Belle puts it, this “dearth of foreign translations into English” is one area of publishing that’s not well served.

As mentioned above, the first title in the AmazonCrossing program is Tierno Monenembo’s The King of Kahel, which first came to Amazon’s attention when it won the 2008 Prix Renaudot in France and just starting to plan this initiative. More than a year later, the English rights were still available, which further convinced Belle and the rest of the Amazon team that there are a lot of great books that never make their way into English.

Similar to the Encore program, customer reviews (in this case on Amazon.fr—the company’s French site) helped convince Amazon to go ahead with this book, which points to Amazon’s ability to leverage customer research. Although comments are obviously public, traditional publishers don’t tend to examine this sort of feedback when deciding whether or not to publish a translation of a particular book. This
customer-centric approach is unique, almost the diametrical opposite to the traditional “I know what readers want” mantra of most editors. “Our choices are really dictated by what our customers tell us about the books they love,” says Belle. “We’re looking for exceptional books that are effectively nominated by our customers and deserving of a wider, global audience.”

Amazon won’t specify how many translated titles they plan on publishing in any given season, but they recently announced their next six , which include a thriller (The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch), a non-fiction book on Argentina’s economic troubles (No Reserve: The Limit of Absolute Power by Martín Redrado), a YA-novel (Pizzicato: The Abduction of the Magic Violin by Rusalka Reh), a 19th-century Spanish novel (Pepita Jimenez by Juan Valera), and a controversial work of literary fiction (Field Work in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko).

Members of the AmazonCrossing team will be at the Fair, meeting with agents, publishers, and translators to spread the word about this new program. More information about AmazonCrossing and its titles can be found online.

22 September 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

A good deal of attention was paid to AmazonCrossing when they announced their first title—The King of Kahel by Nicholas Elliott—and a lot of people (self included) were interested in seeing what other sorts of books they’d be publishing in the future. I just received a copy of the galley, so I haven’t had a chance to read Elliott’s book yet, but from what I know it seems pretty literary . . .

This morning, AmazonCrossing announced the next batch of books they’ll be publishing. You can read the full press release for all the details on all the books, but here are the three that sound most interesting to me:

No Reserve: The Limit of Absolute Power by Martín Redrado and translated from the Spanish by Dan Newland

This sounds fascinating to me, but I’m a sucker for business-oriented books about the Argentine economy. (I’m not at all kidding. Scott Esposito loaned me And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out) by Paul Blustein when I was down in Buenos Aires, and I really loved it. It’s crazy/fascinating/scary what happened to the Argentine economy at the beginning of the 2000s, and an interesting lesson in the way the world economy works.) Anyway, Martin Redrado was the president of Argentina’s Central Bank from 2004 to 2010, and ended up leading a fight against financial corruption. According to the copy, “readers will be intrigued by Redrado’s explanations of emerging world markets, tenets of central banking, and how governments can cause and avoid financial crises.” Get the feeling this is one of those economics books that won’t be taught in any of the Simon Business School classes I’m taking . . .

Old Town by Lin Zhe, translated from the Chinese by George Fowler

This is currently available from Dog Ear Publishing (a self-publishing outfit) as Riddles of Belief . . . And Love: A Story, but at $23 (for a paperback), I suspect most people will wait for the AmazonCrossing version. Not a ton of specific info in the description, but it sounds, uh, sweeping: Old Town “paints an unforgettable picture of an ordinary family caught up in the maelstrom that was China’s most recent century. Praised as China’s Gone With the Wind . . .”

Field Work in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko, translated from the Ukrainian by someone . . .

This is a book that we actually considered at Dalkey way back when . . . Sounds pretty cool and somewhat controversial. According to Zabuzhko: “When you turn 30, you inevitably start reconsidering what you have been taught in your formative years—that is, if you really seek for your own voice as a writer. In my case, my personal identity crisis had coincided with the one experienced by my country after the advent of independence. The result turned explosive: Field Work in Ukrainian Sex.

There are a few interesting things about this list. First off, Field Work is the first of three Zabuzhko books they’re planning on doing, and they’re also doing three titles by German YA author Rusalka Reh. Smart move to try and build a brand by doing a few books by certain people . . .

And the range of the list is pretty interesting. A YA book, nonfiction about Argentina’s economic situation, novel by a nineteenth-century diplomat, scandalous book with “sex” in the title, and a thriller. It’ll be interesting to see which titles catch on and what the list looks like a few years from now.

More on AmazonCrossing later . . . I’m interviewing Jeff Belle for an article for Publishing Perspectives . . . (Which is one reason why I haven’t been posting much here as of late . . . )

21 May 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

I’ve been meaning to write about The AmazonCrossing announcement all week, but it’s taken a few days of Torino detox to partially regain my ability to put words into some sort of meaningful order. (Emphasis on “partially” . . . my mind is still unfurling, but hopefully by the time I’m drowning in Bulgarian grain alcohol I’ll be all back to normal.)

Anyway, for anyone who hasn’t heard about this, Amazon.com announced on Monday the launch of AmazonCrossing, a publishing imprint that will be dedicated to publishing works in translation. These titles will be available through Amazon, through major wholesalers, and via the Kindle.

The first book they’re doing is The King of Kahel by Tierno Monénembo, which won the Prix Renaudot, and is translated from the French by Nicholas Elliott. Not a ton of info about the book itself, but here’s something:

Loosely based on the life of Olivier de Sanderval, a man who journeyed to Guinea to build an empire by conquering the hostile region of Fouta Djallon, the book exposes how Sanderval braves all dangers to build a railway that will bring modern civilization to Africa.

There is an interesting interview with the translator though, which has a bit more info:

Amazon.com: What was your initial impression of The King of Kahel?

Nicholas Elliott: I read it in one sitting, on a plane, and was immediately struck by Monénembo’s daring. The King of Kahel bows to no official positions on colonialism in creating a depiction of a land as terrifying as it can be mystifyingly comical. Monénembo’s sly way of comparing the conniving of the Paris bureaucracy with the ruthlessness of the princes of Fouta Djallon would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tightly wound into a thrilling story. But more than anything else, the images of a harsh and beautiful land and the madly ambitious men who fought for it haunt me to this day, nearly a year after I finished translating the book.

As Michael Orthofer pointed out, the University of Nebraska did an earlier book of Monenembo’s—one that didn’t gain a ton of traction with the reading public. (But which did receive a solid “B” from the Complete Review.) Which is what makes this a very intriguing first selection . . . I’m sure the fact this won the Prix Renaudot played a huge factor, but regardless, without checking the Translation Database I’m going to guess that there were maybe a half-dozen books from African writers translated and published here in the U.S. last year. Maybe.

Although all this stuff about the book is cool, the real fun stuff to talk about in relation to this announcement is the effect this program will have on publishers, how people in the book business are going to perceive this, and what impact AmazonCrossing might have on literature in translation as a whole.

Before this press release came out (I knew about it a few weeks ago, since they asked me for a quote), I was half expecting a ton of outrage from various parts of the publishing world. Commercial publishers have a somewhat antagonistic relationship with Amazon.com to say the least, and are always worried that Amazon.com is going to try and become a publisher and have even more control over the book market than they currently do. And although we all know commercial publishers don’t really publish many works in translation, this is still an encroachment on their turf . . . And on the other side of the retail coin, I could envision indie booksellers—some of whom sell heaps of translated books, some of which hang up on me with a “we don’t carry those sorts of books” when I contact them about setting up a sales call—getting up in arms about potentially stocking titles with the logo of one of their biggest rivals on the spine.

I haven’t necessarily been trolling all the various litblogs, but everything that I’ve read (the main ones being Sarah Weinman’s piece for Daily Finance, Michael Orthofer’s take, and this article in the Wall Street Journal) has been fairly neutral, more focused on simply explaining the program and not getting into too many potential implications.

The only critical piece that I’ve seen was this one which is incredibly stupid more or less an attack on a quote I made to the WSJ regarding “standard” payment rates for translators. It’s not at all worth taking down this particular post—which is based in the belief that translators are overpaid, a belief as moronic as the title of his blog—but I do want to clarify a bit re: my WSJ quote. When Jeffrey Trachtenberg called, he simply asked about normal payment rates for translators. This info is a bit tricky to come by, since it’s technically collusion for translators to discuss with each other what rates they charge. But based on experience, a lot of established translators ask for about $125/1000 words. Some get more, some get fucked. (And some unnamed publishers specialize in the low-ball fucking.) But what I want to make clear is that I have no idea if Amazon will be paying translators these amounts, or doing something more along the lines of a nice royalty share. (I’m pretty sure it will be the latter though, since that’s more in keeping with the Amazon Encore program.)

OK, backlash speculation aside, I think this program could actually do a lot for the perception and reception of international literature. It’s not like this cause is new to Amazon: for the past few years they’ve been systematically funding non-profit organizations specializing in literature in translation, such as the Center for the Art of Translation, PEN America’s Translation Fund, Words Without Borders, and Open Letter. (And just to disclaim: I’d be praising this program regardless of whether Amazon.com sponsored us or not.) Amazon’s stated goal is to make as many books available in as many formats to as many people as possible. And with so few translations making their way into English, this is an obvious place to expand . . .

My long-term interest in this program is two-fold: obviously, increasing the number of translated titles available to English readers is something I believe in strongly, also, I’m interested in seeing how Amazon’s marketing efforts could expand the overall awareness and appreciation for these books. As things currently stand, 80-85% of all works of literature in translation are published by smaller, indie, nonprofit, university presses—most of which have pretty small marketing budgets. And the big houses that do translations tend not to put a lot of money behind these books (they have other books with larger sales potential to focus on).

But Amazon.com . . . They don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on marketing, since they already have all the necessary tools to push a book out to the fricking world. And what would be really interesting, is if they created some sort of World Literature portal where they could push the AmazonCrossing books alongside authors like Saramago or Garcia Marquez or Bragi Olafsson . . . something that would help serve as a way to promote the whole of translated literature. It’s quite possible that over time something like this could make a huge difference in how translations are perceived and purchased.

And going back to the production side of things for a moment, there are god only knows how many fully translated manuscripts that translators have been unsuccessful in placing. And I’m sure a lot of these people would be happy to forgo an advance in lieu of a better royalty rate just to finally see their work make its way into print . . .

So in essence, the program could result in the publication of more translations from more translators reaching more readers—all very good things . . .

....
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Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.

It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .

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Selected Stories
Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .

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Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .

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