At long last, I just posted an updated 2013 Translation Database, and following the trend of recent years, the number of books has increased—significantly.
In fact, this is the first year since we started tracking the publication of never-before translated works of fiction and poetry that we surpassed 500 total books for the year. That’s huge. Very huge. Let me show you just how huge.
In 2008, we identified 360 translations in total (278 works of fiction, 82 poetry).
2009 was almost identical: 362 total translations (290 fiction, 72 poetry).
2010 was a step backwards, with only 344 translations (266 fiction, 78 poetry).
Everything got back on track in 2011 with 374 total translations coming out (304 fiction, 70 poetry).
2012 was another increase, and was the first time the total broke into the 400s. Specifically, 456 translations came out (386 fiction, 70 poetry).
And now, we’re up to 517 (427 fiction, 90 poetry). That’s a 50% increase from 2010, or, in actual terms, 173 more translations came out in 2013 than in 2010. Seems unbelievable . . .
Someone asked me about this increase the other day, and from looking at the list of publishers, it looks like two things are contributing to this increase: publishers who have traditionally published literature in translation are now doing a couple more books every year, and there are far more publishers publishing books in translation than there were just a few years ago. (In 2010, 139 publishers did at least one translation. That number jumped to 187 in 2013.)
I going to talk about this more in a later post, but this database update reinforces my belief that there’s a lot going on in the international literature world in the U.S. these days, and it’s time to transition from discussions about how little is being made available to American readers and into discussions about what great books we should be paying attention to.
For example, how many of you have heard of Lontar Foundation? Anyone? Well, as part of their programs to support Indonesian literature, they published 8 titles last year. Granted, I doubt these are available anywhere outside of Amazon, but still. Let’s talk about the interesting new projects and the should-be successes, instead of the fact that only 87 French books were published in translation last year.
And looking ahead, I think 2014 could feature another significant increase, what with Restless Books logging some titles into the Database (I’m particularly excited about Nest of Worlds because it’s Polish. And it sounds like really literary sci-fi.), AmazonCrossing continuing to expand, a whole new batch of books from Dalkey Archive, etc., etc. I’m not sure we’ll end up at 600 books, but 550? That sounds possible.
I don’t have a lot to say, analysis-wise, about this most recent update. At the moment, there are 419 titles included for 2013, compared to 452 for 2012. By year’s end, I suspect these will be almost identical, especially considering that there are books I’m aware of—such as forthcoming titles from Frisch & Co.—that I can’t add yet because the ISBN info isn’t available. (Database talk! The ISBN is the primary key, so without anything to enter into that field, I can’t create a record.) Also, the count for December publications (19 in 2013 compared to 34 in 2012) points to the fact that there are releases coming up that haven’t made their way to my desk/inbox or PW.
One thing worth noting is that Dalkey has regained the lead as the number one publisher of translations in the U.S., overtaking AmazonCrossing. How did they do this? Money from the Korean Government! Seriously. Way back when, South Korea signed a deal with Dalkey to publish approximately a shit load of Korean books. The first ten are coming out in November, and with those added in here, Dalkey moves back up into first place with 31 translations of fiction and poetry coming out in 2013.
The thing I’m always interested in are the most translated languages. At the moment, the top 10 are:
That’s an unusually large gap between French and German. For example, last year there were 67 French books and 57 German. Not sure what’s going on there . . .
Enjoy downloading and looking through these, and hopefully you’ll find some interesting books and publishers to check out!
1 As always, these spreadsheets detail all original translations to come out in English, in the U.S. (either by a U.S. press, or a foreign press with legit U.S. distribution) during the specified time period. And by original I mean books that have never ever ever appeared in any English translation ever ever ever. No retranslations of Proust, no “new editions” comprised of pieces from previously published books, etc. Sometimes I miss things thought—include things that shouldn’t be, or don’t include books that should—so email me at chad.post [at] rochester.edu if you see any errors.
First things first: In 2012, AmazonCrossing published more works of fiction and poetry in translation than any other press except for Dalkey Archive, and is the largest publisher of literature in translation so far this year. More about that below.
Before getting into all of that though, here are some basic statistics. According to our Translation Database1, here are the overall number of translations published in the U.S. since we’ve started keeping track:
2008: 360 total (278 fiction, 82 poetry)
2009: 363 (291, 72)
2010: 344 (266, 78)
2011: 374 (304, 70)
2012: 453 (384, 69)
2013: 300 (249, 51)2
So, in terms of the simple bean counting of all this, the number of works of fiction in translation being published in the U.S. is growing pretty nicely. Actually, the 26.3% increase from 2011 to 2012 is incredibly impressive. That’s like ebook sales type growth.3
What accounts for this jump? I don’t want to paint too optimistic a picture here, but there are more presses doing translations each and ever year, and basically everyone involved in publishing literature in translation is doing a little bit more.
Let me preface the list of publishers with a few extra statistics: In 2010, 137 presses published at least 1 translation, and the top 10 publishers brought out 10.6 books/piece, and the average for the top 20 was 8.
In 2011, 146 presses did at least one translation (up 9 over 2010), with the top 10 publishing 12.1 books on average, and the top 20 doing 9 books on average.
2012 was followed the same trend: 153 presses (up 7 over 2011), with the top 10 bringing out 15.1 translations on average, and the top 20 averaging 10.6 books per press.
Talking in ratios and percentages, the presses doing the most translations have increased their output dramatically over the past three years, from 10.6 for the top 10 in 2010, to 15.1 in 2012—a 42% increase.
On top of that, there were 16 additional presses that published at least one work in translation in 2012 compared to 2010. That’s pretty significant considering that there were “only” 137 presses publishing lit in translation in 2010.
Who are these top 10 presses? Here’s the breakdown for 2012:4
Dalkey Archive: 32 books
Seagull Books: 16
Europa Editions: 15
American University at Cairo: 12
Open Letter: 10
Other Press: 10
New Directions: 9
Yale University Press: 8
That’s a pretty stellar list, and not that much different from 2011.5
What’s most interesting to me though is that in 2013, this top 10 switches in one important way: To date, AmazonCrossing has 24 titles in the database and Dalkey Archive only has 19. (Europa Editions, Open Letter, and Pushkin Press follow with 10 each.)
The 2013 database is probably 60% complete or so, so it’s possible this might change, but given Amazon’s growth over the past few years, I kind of doubt Dalkey will surpass them. And for the sake of what follows, I’m not sure it matters. Regardless of the final tally, AmazonCrossing is a major player in the world of literary translation publishing.
So, what does this mean? First of all, I think it’s interesting that of the 10 presses listed above, Amazon and FSG are the only ones who aren’t nonprofit/independent/university presses. It’s hard to compare these two though, since FSG is a traditional press, is part of the multi-national Macmillan, and has been in business for decades. Amazon, as a company, is barely 20 years old and has been publishing translations for, like, three. Also, the vast majority of these books aren’t available through independent bookstores. Not because Amazon doesn’t want to sell them there, but because those stores see Amazon as the biggest threat to their continued existence, they’d rather not stock these things.6
One can speculate all one wants over why Amazon would spend their money on doing these books—especially books like Oksana Zabuzhko’s The Museum of Abandoned Secrets, which, at 700+ pages, must’ve cost a fortune—and postulate all sorts of secret, secondary reasons, but the fact of the matter is, they are publishing a lot of books, employing a lot of translators, and, apparently, selling them pretty well (see: all the Olivier Pötzsch books and the Apocalypse Z series). That plus Amazon’s giving program which has supported a dozen (or more) translation-related initiatives, and it’s clear they’re a major contributor to the business of translation.
On the flipside of this, did anyone notice who’s not on the top 10 list of publishers of literature in translation? Archipelago. The press that’s won more Best Translated Book Awards than any other press in the country. Which just goes to show that this sort of bean counting is valuable, but not necessarily related to literary quality. (Although I think they have a handful of books that are BTBA worthy—see Andrei Gelasimov’s works—AmazonCrossing has yet to make the longlist.) Which raises other questions I hope to explore later this summer about the impact of particular books and the positive, outsized importance of particular works of literature in translation.
But for now, visit the Translation Database page and see what’s come out, coming out, and worth reading. I’ll be using this over the next few weeks to provide a BTBA 2014 preview, a list of translations to read this summer, etc., etc. It’s a fun database to put together, and leads to all sorts of weird and interesting things, such as Hashish: The Lost Legend.
1 Which, just to remind everyone, only keeps track of original, never-before-translated works of fiction and poetry that are distributed (in ways beyond just Amazon.com) in the United States.
2 Obviously the info for 2013 is incomplete at this time.
3 It’s really not, but ebook gurus love to use meaningless percentage statistics to claim that this is the only future!, so I figure these sorts of hyperbolic number games are par for the course.
4 All of this info is available in the downloadable Excel files linked to at the top of this article. I’m just cutting and pasting.
5 The top 10 in 2011 were: Dalkey Archive, AmazonCrossing, Knopf, New Directions, Seagull Books, Europa Editions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, FSG, New York Review Books, Open Letter.
6 At the risk of upsetting
the people at Melville House tons of people, this situation plays right into Amazon’s rhetoric about serving customers. The traditional line on indie bookstores is that they make these sorts of books—obscure translations, literary books not found at the chain stores, bookseller cult classics, etc.—available to readers everywhere. But as much as I love bookstores, outside of the top 100 or so, this is a fallacious claim. They don’t want to carry most anything that’s not by Stephanie “Fifty Shades” Rowling. And in this instance, a few dozen translated books a year aren’t being made available to their customers. Those readers who are interested in, say, Icelandic literature have to go to Amazon to buy Hellgrimur Helgason’s The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning or Bergsveinn Birgisson’s Reply to a Letter from Helga. For Amazon’s PR department, this is fucking golden. They are serving a set of subset of readers that the independent stores (and B&N) are categorically ignoring. Sure, we’re talking about a subset of readers here, but for PR purposes, that doesn’t matter as much as the message itself: You can get everything from Amazon, or you can shop the prejudice laden, restrictive collection of books that Indie Store X has made available. I don’t necessarily support this, I’m just saying that such an statement could be made and is tricky to argue with. It’s why critics of Amazon should, and do, focus on Amazons business practices and labor issues rather than on how Amazon services customers versus a traditional bookstore.
I’m fully aware that the 2012 list of poetry books is woefully incomplete, so if you are a poet, or a translator of poetry, or a reader of the poetic form, PLEASE email me with info on all of the books that are not listed here. I’m going to go through the SPD catalog really carefully when I get back from Sharjah (yeah, really, I’ll explain later), but it’s SO much easier to get the info from all of you.
Since the poetry needs to be updated, I’m going to save any global comments about the state of literature in translation in the U.S. for a later post. It is worth noting that at this moment, I’ve identified 385 original1 translations published in 2012, compared to 370 in 2011—a 4% increase. This isn’t huge, but if we do identify 20-30 more poetry books, this could end up being closer to a 10% increase, which would be pretty significant.
Sticking to fiction though, there are 342 translated titles published in 2012, compared to 303 in 2011—a notable 13% increase. If you look at the top 10 publishers of translated fiction, they accounted for 107 books in 2011 (Dalkey 30; AmazonCrossing 17; Knopf 11; Europa 9; New Directions 9; Seagull Books 9; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 8; New York Review Books 7; Open Letter 7) and 139 in 2012 (Dalkey 32; AmazonCrossing 25; Europa 14; Seagull 14; American University at Cairo 12; FSG 10; Other Press 10; Open Letter 8; Archipelago 7; New Directions 7).
There are a few changes in the most translated languages rankings . . . Here’s the list from 2011:
The one I’m most interested in watching over the next few years is Japanese. As we have yet to report, the Japanese Literature Publishing Project went kaputt over the summer, which is going to a huge blow to Dalkey Archive’s Japanese Literature Series and to several other presses. The number of titles published in the U.S. has already dropped from 23 to 13, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Japanese falls out of the top 10 in 2013.
Anyway, download the spreadsheet and take a look at all of the books and stats. If you find anything interesting, or know of titles that need to be added, just let me know, or post them in the comments below.
1 “Original” means that the book has never before appeared in any English translation at all. Even if a book was first translated in 1932, sold 7 copies, and was just rediscovered and translated anew in 2012, it won’t be included in this database. My goal in setting this up was to identify “new” voices/books that English readers never before had access to in any form.
As always, we only keep track of works of fiction and poetry that have never been for sale in the U.S. in any translation. So retranslations—no matter how extensive—aren’t counted, nor are reprints, paperback versions of hardcovers, memoirs, children’s books, nonfiction, UK versions not for sale here, graphic novels, etc. Hopefully at some point we’ll have the funding and people power to expand the database to include all sorts of categories of translations, but for now, we’re limited to original works of fiction and poetry. (As my son screamed out in the middle of a movie theater once, “you get what you get!”)
OK, now that the preliminary disclaimers and explanations are out of the way, I can move onto the good news . . . After a pretty steep drop off last year, the overall number of translations being published jumped back up to where it was in 2008 and 2009, due entirely to a huge increase in the number of works of fiction coming out this year.
In 2008, there were 360 total translations, 278 of which were fiction, 82 which were poetry.
In 2009, the total increased slightly to 363, with 291 being fiction, 72 poetry.
There was a huge drop off in 2010 (probably a reaction to the 2008 crash—it takes a couple years for that to show up in the publishing stats), with the total dipping to 340, 265 of which were works of fiction, 75 collections of poetry.
So far in 2011 (it’s possible I haven’t identified all the books yet), the total shot up 6% to 361, with fiction titles accounting for 303 of those books (a 14% increase), and poetry making up 58 (which is where I think I may be missing some titles).
Overall, this is great news for literature in translation, and exciting to see such a rebound. It also begs the question as to why the number of works of fiction jumped so dramatically . . .
Well, in looking through the data, it seems to me like there are two main sources for this increase: Dalkey Archive and AmazonCrossing. Dalkey upped their number of translations from 22 in 2010 to 32 in 2011, whereas AmazonCrossing went from 2 all the way up to 18. That’s huge.
There are other minor increases from publishers—Seagull books is up to 9 titles a year, Knopf is bringing out 10 translations this year, and Melville House went from 3 to 9—which is also really encouraging.
In terms of which languages are the most translated, this seems to follow a pretty standard pattern.
So far in 2011, the top five are French (59 titles), Spanish (47), German (44), Japanese (25), and Swedish (19), which accounts for almost 54% of the books published in translation.
In 2010, the top five—French (60), Spanish (52), German (35), Japanese (26), and Italian (15)—constituted 55% of the total. This trend holds in 2009, with the top five making up 53% of all translations, and the top 5 translated languages accounted for 52% of the books published in 2008.
There’s a lot more to be analyzed in here—the decline of translated poetry, the increased interest in Swedish (an effect of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo perhaps?), the vast number of presses doing literature in translation (133 different publishers have brought out at least one translated title this year), etc.
So dig on in. And if you see anything that’s wrong—a missing title, an ineligible title, a title that was delayed and didn’t come out on time—let me know.
Now that 2010 is over, it seems like an appropriate time to post updated “Translation Databases”: and take a closer look at the state of literature in translation in the U.S. Not to give it all away, but things aren’t trending so well . . .
Before getting to the numbers, here’s the normal spiel: I only keep track of original translations1 of fiction and poetry published in the United States during the recorded times. No memoirs, no nonfiction, no children’s books, no reissues of long out-of-print titles, no paperback of previously released hardcovers. Just novels, short story collections, and poetry collections that were never before available to Americans.2
Also, by clicking here you can download spreadsheets from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Clicking on the pages at the bottom will give you info on all translated titles by title, language, country, publisher, fiction publishers, poetry publishers, fiction vs. poetry, and pub month.
So, 2010 SUCKED.
Unless I went blind, or missed two months worth of releases,3 total number of new translations was way down. Like down by 40 titles, or 11%. This is not cool.
And this is the trend from 2008 to 2010 is a pretty steady decline, in spite of all the media attention paid to Bolano, to translation as a whole, etc., etc. Despite all the best efforts of all the best people who are out there championing international literature. This scares me.4
Here’s a breakdown of all three years across a few categories:
Total Titles: 317 (2010), 357 (2009), 362 (2008)
Fiction: 248 (2010), 285 (2009), 280 (2008)
Poetry: 69 (2010), 72 (2009), 82 (2008)
This is a pretty huge drop-off from 2008 to 2010 . . .
2010: French (59), Spanish (48), German (35), Japanese (15), Arabic (14), Hebrew (14), Italian (14)
2009: Spanish (62), French (53), German (31), Arabic (22), Italian (21)
2008: French (59), Spanish (48), German (31), Arabic (28), Japanese (23)
Interesting the four languages are pretty stable (French, Spanish, German, Arabic), and that Italian and Japanese pop in and out . .
2010: Dalkey Archive (22), New Directions (16), Europa Editions (16), Open Letter (9), American University of Cairo Press (8), Knopf (8), Archipelago (8)
2009: Dalkey Archive (19), New Directions (13), American University of Cairo Press (11), Europa Editions (11), HarperCollins (10)
2008: Dalkey Archive (12), American University of Cairo (11), Europa Editions (11), Host Publications (11), Penguin (10), Vertical (10)
Yay for indies/university presses! And this is remarkably stable as well . . . (Oh, and yay for us as well—finally cracked the Top 5!)
And since poetry tends to get masked in these numbers, here are the top poetry publishers:
2010: Ugly Duckling Presse (5), Green Integer (4), Zephyr (4), Host Publications (4), Counterpath (3), Marick Press (3), Shearsman Books (3)
2009: White Pine (7), Green Integer (6), Host Publications (5), Black Widow (3), New Directions (3)
2008: Host Publications (7), Green Integer (6), Ugly Duckling (5), FSG (5), Black Widow (5)
Doesn’t surprise me that there’s a different set of publishers doing most of these translations. In fact, that’s kind of cool.
Anyway, there you are. I think I need some time to pull my head out of the oven, think this through, and analyze it before throwing out any more hypotheses.
(And at least 2011 is looking up . . . With only a few months of data, we’re already at 122 titles. That’s a good start, right? Right?)
1 Also don’t include retranslations even if they’re substantially different from the original. Sorry, it’s a personal choice, since the more this opens up, the more we slide down a slippery slope, the more work this becomes for me, the greater headache, etc., etc.
2 Even new arrangements of poetry are excluded. Yes, I get that some “selected poem” titles include a handful of scraps of never-before-translated-material, but this database is to examine what’s just now entering our culture, not the ten thousandth variation of Rilke’s poems and journalistic scribbles.
3 This is not impossible. So if you see something missing, let me know. (chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu)
4 Not to be all doom and gloom, but this may confirm my worst fear, that with the financial collapse of 2008, a lot of presses went bust, or at least cut down the number of translations they were publishing as a way of cutting costs. To ramp up the hype on this “trans-pocalypse,” it could be a sign of the publishing industry’s rush toward mediocrity and “booklike entertainment objects,” such as anything by the Macaroni Assholes or about WikiLeaks.
It’s been way, way too long since we last updated the Translation Databases. But in my defense, over the summer my computer—where the database was stored—basically stopped functioning, and it’s taken months to gather up the mental energy to get back into this . . . But at long last, everything’s been updated and I’ve even uploaded the (little) information I have for 2011.
Usually when we update this I include some sort of analysis of where the translated titles are coming from (in terms of language and publishing house), or how this year compares to last, etc. But looking over this data, I’m 99% sure that I’m missing a lot of titles and that any conclusions I could try and draw would be totally flawed. (Right now, there are 274 titles included in the 2010 database, compared to 357 in 2009.)
So, I’ll hold off on comparisons for the moment, and instead beg all translators, booksellers, publishers, and readers to tell me what’s missing. Remember, we only keep track of fiction and poetry that has never before been published in English. No new translations of Rilke poems, or reissues of other classic books.
And if you know of any missing titles, just send me (chad.post [at] rochester.edu) the ISBN, title, author, translator, and any other info you might have. (Although it’s pretty easy to look things up so long as you send those first four pieces of info.)
Thanks in advance for all your help, and I’ll update this again in a couple weeks . . . complete with hopefully not-too-terribly-depressing analysis and commentary.
It’s been months since I last posted an update of the translation databases . . . And I know full well that even this version of the 2010 database isn’t anywhere near complete.
So if there’s anything you’ve translated/published/read that’s missing, please just send me an e-mail. I have an intern starting next week who will be updating all of this, going through catalogs, going through all issues of PW and Library Journal, etc., in search of titles that haven’t been logged in yet.
But anyway, the data from 2008 and 2009 is stable, and even the preliminary 2010 stuff is interesting to consider. Just to reiterate, we only track original translations—books that have never before appeared in English. We don’t log in retranslations of classics (like the new edition of Kafka’s America) or reprints of titles that have gone OP (which is why there aren’t more NYRB titles in here).
Taking that all into consideration, it’s worth pointing out that there was a slight drop-off between 2008 and 2009—thanks to the decrease in poetry. In 2008 there were 362 total books released, 281 of which were fiction, 81 of which were poetry collections. In 2009 that number dropped to 355 (essentially a 2% decrease), but fiction titles increased to 283, whereas poetry “plummeted” to only 72.
So far in 2010 I’ve identified 156 books, 132 of which are works of fiction, 24 of which are poetry. (And as mentioned above, this is woefully incomplete. The next update should be more helpful in predicting.)
If you visit here you can download Excel spreadsheets for each year (2008-2010) with information on all titles published, who published them, which languages they were translated from, etc. etc.
And again, let me know what I’m missing . . . It’s not all that easy doing this by yourself, so please forgive any oversights and typos.
Since we’re basically at the end of the year, I thought it would be a good time to do one last final update to the 2009 Translation Database . . . and to post the first one of 2010.
First off, here’s the link to download the 2009 Translation spreadsheet. As you can see, this file contains all the original fiction and poetry translations released in the U.S. this past year. (And by “original,” I mean never before published in English translation in any form. So no retranslations, reprints, paperback versions of hardcovers, etc.)
Although there may be a title or two that I’m missing, I think this is basically it for 2009. A few titles actually came off this list recently—two poetry books from a publisher that had to delay them to 2010 thanks to our awesome economy.
Here are some general comparisons:
In 2008 there were 362 total titles published (280 fiction, 82 poetry);
In 2009 there were 348 total titles published (283 fiction, 65 poetry).
So as I pointed out in the last update, the number of fiction titles stayed about the same (up slightly this year), the number of poetry collections published in translation in 2009 was down almost 14% mostly due to small publishers delaying titles, etc.
The most translated language in 2009 was Spanish (59 books), followed by French (51), German (31), Arabic (22), Italian (18), Japanese (18), Swedish (18), Russian (12), and Norwegian (11).
In terms of country, France was at the top (32 books), followed by Italy (19), Japan (19), Spain (19), Sweden (18), Germany (11), Norway (11), Russia (11), Austria (10), China (10), and Turkey (10).
(One thing that stands out to me from these numbers is just how published the Francophone countries are. There were 19 books translated from the French from authors living outside of France. A good number of these from Quebecois writers . . .)
I haven’t entered much of anything for 2010 yet, but just for fun (and to help write my next post), I ran the numbers we have so far for next year. Here’s the link to download the 2010 Translation spreadsheet.
Not too many really interesting numbers here, but I have already identified 73 books, the vast majority of which are coming out in January, February, and March, so maybe 2010 will be a good year for literature in translation . . .
With the end of 2009 approaching, it seems like as good a time as ever to post an update to our translation database and look at some comparisons and more interesting numbers. First off, you can click here to download the entire Excel file that lists all original translations of fiction and poetry released in the U.S. in 2009. Also included in this file are breakdowns by language, country, fiction vs. poetry, publisher, and pub month.
In comparison, the file for 2008 is available here, and if you download both, the first thing you’ll notice is that the total number of translations dipped in 2009 from 362 to 336—a 7% decrease.
Granted, I might be missing a few titles—it’s suspicious that there are only 13 translations coming out in December 2009, but maybe—and over the next couple weeks I’ll be e-mailing this to every publisher, consulate, distributor, translator, and international lit fanatic I can to make sure this is as accurate as possible.
But, on a gut level, I feel like this is damn close to complete. If you look into this dip a bit more closely, you’ll see that the drop off was in terms of poetry. In 2008, 82 translated poetry collections were published by 40 different publishers. In 2009 that number plummets to 57 titles from 33 different publishers. Welcome to the post-financial collapse publishing world . . .
On the other hand, fiction stayed remarkably steady with 280 titles coming out in 2008 and 279 in 2009.
Rather than look at all the same old comparisons (in terms of most translated language, in 2009 Spanish topped French, but France was the most translated country), I thought I’d run some more quirky queries and see what came up.
So, utilizing our complete database (which includes books from 2008, 2009, and 2010), here are the translators with the most translations published over that time:
Margaret Jull Costa (7)
Anthea Bell (6)
Antony Shugaar (6)
Andrew Bromfield (6)
Howard Goldblatt (6)
Clifford Landers (5)
Howard Curtis (5)
Nick Caistor (5)
Katherine Silver (5)
Chris Andrews (5)
Alison Anderson (5)
(Disclaimer: These are the translators with the most original translations published over this period. For example, I think Marian Schwartz would be on the list had we included her retranslations of Bulgakov’s The White Guard and Goncharov’s Oblomov, etc.)
And for authors? No surprise here:
Roberto Bolano (7)
Mehmet Murat Somer (3)
Gert Jonke (3)
Andrea Camilleri (3)
Imre Kertesz (3)
Karin Fossum (3)
Naguib Mahfouz (3)
Horacio Castellanos Moya (3)
Boris Akunin (3)
Mahmoud Darwish (3)
The month with the most translations is April (85), the month with the least is December (34). Bleakest month, my ass.
This is a bit of a self-indulgent post, but yesterday I received a copy of the Bog Markedet, a Danish book trade magazine, that contains an article I wrote on the surprising success of Scandinavian literature in English translation. Since most of the people I know can’t actually read Danish, I thought I’d reprint the original English version here. Nothing terribly new to people who regularly read Three Percent, although it was fun using the translation database to uncover some trends . . .
Anyway, here’s the English original:
Surprising Success of Scandinavian Lit in English Translation
The American publishing industry’s overwhelming indifference toward international literature has been well documented over the past few years. From the oft-cited statistic that approximately 3% of all books published in the United States are in translation (a statistic reported by Bowker and included in an informal study by the National Endowment for the Arts) to an article in the New York Times entitled “American Readers Yawn at Foreign Fiction,” most of the news related to international fiction has emphasized America’s cultural provincialism. With the notable exceptions of Roberto Bolano (The Savage Detectives), Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), and Carlos Ruiz Zafon (The Shadow of the Wind), works of fiction published in English translation don’t get much attention in the mainstream media and almost never make the best-seller lists.
American publishers tend to point the finger at readers to explain this lack of international voices (the basic argument is that readers aren’t interested in reading works from the rest of the world, and the lagging sales prevent publishers from investing the necessary money in getting more works translated), but this is a moot point based on the relative lack of international fiction available in translation. According to the Translation Database I put together for the Three Percent website, in 2008 only 362 original translated works of fiction (280) and poetry (82) were published in the U.S. And in 2009, the numbers are even more dismal: a total of 327 translations came out this year, 272 works of fiction and 55 collections of poetry.
It can be hard to find a bright spot among numbers so miniscule, but there are a few things worth highlighting that provide hope for the future of American book culture—especially in relation to the translation of Scandinavian literature into English.
One thing worth noting is the sheer number of independent and small presses publishing literature in translation. In 2008, over 140 different publishers brought out at least one work of literature in translation. And of all the translations published last year, more than 80% were from independent houses.
The translation of Scandinavian literature is another bright spot: In 2008, 27 works were translated from Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, and Icelandic and published in America. In 2009, that number rose by 33% to 36 titles. The most notable increases were in translations of Norwegian literature (up from 6 titles to 11) and Swedish (12 in 2008, 18 in 2009). In fact, in 2009, Swedish is the fourth most translated language into English, ranking behind only Spanish, French, and German.
There’s no single explanation for this significant increase (which is particularly remarkable considering the overall decrease in the number of works being translated into English this year), and not even the continued interested in Scandinavian crime fiction can account for this increase. It’s true that Ake Edwardson, Johan Theorin, Hakan Nesser, Roslund & Hellstrom, Steig Larsson, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, and Gunnar Staalesen all have books coming out in English this year, but there are also four works of Swedish poetry and two books by Norwegian author Jan Kjaerstad.
Nor are these books all coming out from a small group of publishers. Granted, Norvik Press is doing a great job making Scandinavian works available to English readers, but the other titles are spread out over a range of small and large presses.
Whatever the reason, it’s encouraging to see this interest in Scandinavian literature. And with ventures such as Archipelago, Dalkey Archive, Melville House, Europa Editions, and Open Letter doing more and more translations every year, there’s hope that the numbers—both for Scandinavian works and international literature in general—will continue to increase and Americans will be “wowed” by foreign fiction.
Since it’s the start of a new month, and since I’ve added a number of books since the last update, it seems like the perfect time to post updated versions of our Translation Database. To read the complete background on this database, and to access the updated files, simply click here.
Or, click here for the 2008 Translation Database.
And here for the 2009 Translation Database.
As always, here are my disclaimers: I’m only tracking original fiction and poetry—no retranslations or reprints. I’m also doing this by myself by scanning PW, SPD’s weekly releases, all catalogs, dozens of websites, etc. So if I missed something (or, much, much more likely, I have a typo in the file) just send me an e-mail at chad.post at rochester dot edu and I’ll fix it.
So, here’s the new breakdown: in 2008 there were 362 translations published in the U.S., and for 2009, I’ve identified 326. Which is a pretty steep drop-off and it doesn’t really look like 2009 is going to catch up.
BUT WAIT, there is an interesting trend here. In 2008, 82 works of poetry in translation were publisher, but only 55 in 2009. That’s a 33% decrease, compared to only a 3% decrease for works of fiction (280 in 2008, 271 in 2009).
It’s quite possible that I’m missing 9 works of fiction that will come out later this year, making 2009 vs. 2008 a wash.
The decrease in poetry titles seems very real though . . . I did have an intern search the websites of all presses that published at least one work of poetry in translation in 2008, and although she found a couple titles missing from the database (literally a couple), it looks like a number of presses have cut back, stopped doing international books, etc. According to our numbers, in 2008, 40 different presses published at least one work of poetry in translation. That number dropped to 32 in 2009.
Another interesting shift can be found on the language charts. In 2008, the top five source languages were: French (59), Spanish (48), German (31), Arabic (28), and Japanese (23). The rankings for 2009 are a bit different: Spanish (56), French (48), German (29), Arabic/Japanese/Swedish (17).
Not terribly surprised that Spanish surpassed French, but Swedish? That’s quite a jump from 12 books in 2008 to 17 in 2009.
So, to give Sweden their due, here’s the list of all Swedish books coming out this year with links to order them from Brazos, our Featured Bookstore of the Month (more on that later):
With Deer by Aase Berg, trans. Johannes Goransson (Black Ocean)
Amberville by Tim Davys, trans. Paul Norlen (HarperCollins)
Death Angels by Ake Edwardson, trans. Ken Schubert (Penguin)
God’s Mercy by Kerstin Ekman, trans. Linda Schenck (University of Nebraska)
Island of the Naked Women by Inger Frimansson, trans. Laura Wideburg (Pleasure Boat Studio)
Road to Jerusalem by Jan Guillou, trans. Steven Murray (HarperCollins)
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, trans. Marlaine Delargy (Other Press)
True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, trans. Thomas Teal (New York Review Books)
Collobert Orbital by Johan Jonson, trans. Johannes Goransson (Displaced Press)
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, trans. Reg Keeland (Knopf)
Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, trans. Laurie Thompson (New Press)
Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti, trans. Sarah Death (Penguin)
Woman with a Birthmark by Hakan Nesser, trans. Laurie Thompson (Pantheon)
Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, trans. ??? (not even listed in the PW review) (FSG)
Mozart’s Third Brain by Goran Sonnevi, trans. Rika Lesser (Yale University Press)
Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, trans. Marlaine Delargy (Delta)
Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Transtomer, trans. Michael McGriff (Green Integer)
Thanks to everyone who pointed out how I screwed up the links to the latest versions of the 2008 and 2009 translation databases . . . Everything should be fixed now.
And if you don’t feel like revisiting the original post, here are the correct links:
Sorry it’s taken so long to correct—been a bit preoccupied of late, but things are quickly getting back to normal around here . . .
I know things have been pretty quiet around here of late—I’ve been out of the office and am detail with some personal issues, so I might not be posting as much as usual for the next couple weeks—but since July 1st is such a great day for spreadsheets, I thought I’d post updated versions of the 2008 and 2009 translation databases.
As always, these spreadsheets contain info on never-before-translated works of fiction and poetry distributed in the U.S. (I left off anything that’s been published in English translation before, even if the earlier version was censored, corrupt, etc. Just trying to focus on what new titles are being made available to English readers.)
The numbers shift a bit over time, with books being delayed from 2008 to 2009, new titles being uncovered, etc. But although I’m not sure these are 100% accurate, I know we’re damn close. (That said, if you see anything missing, please let me know: chad.post at rochester dot edu.)
So, some comparisons:
In 2008, there were 362 translations published in the States (282 works of fiction, 80 works of poetry). That number is down significantly in 2009 (although the data is incomplete) to 299 total translations (249 works of fiction, 50 poetry collections).
Assuming I have all the books from Jan – June, the numbers are a bit closer: 195 books published in 2008 through June, 173 (down 11%) in 2009. (I have a feeling that I’m missing some poetry and small press titles and will check a lot of websites this month and post another update in the near future.)
In terms of languages translated, the top five for both years are remarkably similar, with only French and Spanish switching places:
French 59 books, 16.30% of total
Spanish 48, 13.26%
German 32, 8.84%
Arabic 28, 7.73%
Japanese 23, 6.35%
Spanish 48 books, 16.05% of total
French 43, 14.38%
German 27, 9.03%
Arabic 17, 5.69%
Japanese 17, 5.69%
In terms of publishers (and this is where I think I need to do additional research), in 2008, 141 different presses did at least one book in translation, and in 2009, I’ve only identified 108 so far.
There’s more that can get teased out of these spreadsheets, and hopefully with the next update 2009 will be much closer to last year . . .
It’s been a couple months since the last Translation Database update, and quite a few titles have been added in the meantime. And a few from 2008 were shifted to 2009, etc., etc. So, the current totals are:
Looking at this breakdown by month, I think 2009 is pretty accurate through August. If that’s the case, and the end of 2009 is similar to 2008, I think we’ll end up with around 340 translations in 2009—a substantial decrease. (Hopefully I’m wrong, and hopefully I’m missing some 2009 titles. Next month’s post-BEA update should be a much stronger indication of how the year will break down.)
In terms of publishers, American University of Cairo Press, Dalkey Archive, Europa are still at the top, along with New Directions, which has tripled it’s new translation output from 2008 to 2009. (Open Letter will jump up as well if I ever get around to adding our fall titles to the database.)
What’s most surprising though is the slight shift in the most translated languages. Here’s the stats for 2008:
French 59 titles, 16.25% of all translations
Spanish 49, 13.50%
German 33, 9.09%
Arabic 28, 7.71%
Japanese 23, 6.34%
So the top five languages account for 192 of the 363 books published in 2008, or approx. 53%.
For 2009, the same top five languages are there, but the order is slightly different:
Spanish 40 titles, 17.02% of all translations
French 35, 14.89%
German 21, 8.94%
Arabic 16, 6.81%
Japanese 12, 5.11%
That amounts to 124 of the recorded 235 translations, or approx. 53%.
It’s almost spooky how similar the years are in terms of the top five languages as a percentage of the total (53% in both 2008 and 2009), and that the only shift is Spanish taking over the top spot from French.
Because of the amount of time that it takes to acquire a book, commission a translation, and then bring it out, it’s impossible for this to be the case, but I’d like to think that Roberto Bolano (and Horacio Castellanos Moya) are somehow responsible for this surging interest in Spanish-language literature.
It’s been a while since I last posted an update of the 2008 Translation Database (full spreadsheet available via that click, complete with sheets breaking this down into country, language, and publisher).
Not a lot different from last time I put this online, although it’s now up to 215 titles for 2008 from 54 different countries and published by 86 different publishing houses.
Post-BEA I suspect all these numbers will jump . . . Most fall catalogs will be available and we’ll have a much clearer view of where this will end up for 2008. I’m still going with my guess of 412 total titles . . . (Just to reiterate, we’re only tracking original translations of adult fiction and poetry—no reprints, no new translations of classics.)
And sometime—once all our sales calls are over?—I’ll go back to posting summaries of all these titles. . . .
It’s not available online, but there’s an article by Rachel Deahl in this week’s Publishers Weekly about Three Percent and the translation database.
The Excel file behind the above link is the most up-to-date version of the database, listing 187 works of adult fiction and poetry coming out this year. Some fall catalogs have started trickling in, so expect more updates in the near future . . . And soon, I swear, we’ll get back to writing brief overviews of all the books. (If you’re interested in seeing some of the earlier ones, all 2008 translation posts are available here.)
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