22 October 08 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog.

(Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the English-language version of this brochure—”* Great Translation by the Way”—is available for download from the NLPVF site. Here’s the Dutch version and if anyone can find the English, please let me know. And apologies for the redundancy of the opening paragraph of this post.)

Literature in translation–and all that goes into producing, publishing, and promoting literature in translation–is a huge interest of mine. (See my U.S. blog Three Percent and/or Open Letter, the publishing company I run.) So I was extremely excited to come across “* Great translation by the way” by Martin de Haan and Rokus Hofstede, a brochure on display at the the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature stand.

This is a fascinating booklet that builds off of some of the ideas in the “To Be Translated or Not to Be” report that was issued from PEN America and the Ramon Llull Institut at last year’s Fair, focusing on the current situation of transltion in the Netherlands, and proposing a set of directives that the European Union should implement to help preserve and cultivate a “flourishing translation culture.”

The title and the purpose are explained in the opening:

” ‘Great translation by the way.’ It is with off-hand comments like these that book reviewers typically dismiss the work of a translator–assuming, that is, that they mention the translator at all. Such cursory treatment makes painfully clear where translators stand in the literary pecking order: right at the bottom.

“This document is a pleas to set matters right and to give a central place to literary translation as a profession. This is a matter of some urgency, as the quality of translations from and into Dutch is under threat and a huge shortage of translators is looming.”

The “huge shortage of translators” problem exists throughout the world, with “meagre pay, low professional status and a lack of educational facilities” being the primary deterrents. Recently, Chinese publishers bought the rights to 60 Dutch works, which is fantastic on one hand, except for the fact that at the time there was only one living Dutch to Chinese translator . . .

Which, in my opinion, is a huge problem. Translated literature is a fantastic way to encounter other cultures and a way to exchange ideas, two concepts that are at the heart of what makes the Frankfurt Book Fair so special. (And at the heart of why Horace Engdahl said that America was too insular to participate in world literature. We publish a miniscule number of translations a year–approx. 330 new translations of adult fiction and poetry. Seriously.)

Maria Vlaar, the Deputy Director of the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature, talked to me about this booklet, explaining that they published this booklet to create a roadmap of sorts for how the E.U. could support translation culture and help it grow in a way that’s more effective and ambitious than simply providing a couple thousand euros in translation subsidies. (Which is what they do now.)

After setting the scene, the booklet details five general recommendations, some specific to the Netherlands, others that apply to all of Europe: 1) establish a degree program in translation to and from Dutch, 2) support lifelong learning and professional development for translators, 3) boost the position of the translator by helping protect their rights and increase their pay and visibility, 4) provide funds to publishers doing “difficult” works that would otherwise flounder in the marketplace, and 5) encourage intercultural dialogue about translation.

One of the specific programs Ms. Vlaar is really big on is the creation and funding of “Translator Houses” throughout Europe. These Houses serve as a place where translators can go and live for a month to work on the translation their doing in the book’s country of origin. (For instance, someone translating a Spanish book in to Dutch could spend a month in Spain to research, increase their knowledge of the area, etc.) One of these houses exists in Amsterdam, and almost 50 translators a year are flown in and put up in one of five apartments where they can work. And a number are even given a 1,000 euro stipend to help with daily expenses. Her vision is that these Houses would exist throughout Europe, thus increasing cultural exchanges and growing the European network of translators.

What’s most interesting to me about her recommendations and ideas about how the E.U. could support this culture is the similarity to current marketing ideas and the shift away from only funding a specific product to funding a group of people who would directly impact the translation scene for years and years to come. Don’t get me wrong, all us publishers would still get our translation subsidies (sigh of relief), but at the same time the E.U. would also be supporting the education and opportunities for a wide number of people who are constantly in contact with publishers and authors, and often serve as “cultural ambassadors,” helping increase the number of translations published.

Thanks to this booklet and last year’s “To Be Translated or Not to Be” report, there is a growing awareness of the need to support literature in translation, and it’s great to see some specific, doable (post-bank bailout, of course–there will always be an economic pecking order) ideas being presented.

Copies of “* Great translation by the way” are available in English and Dutch at stand 6.0 B969.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Morse, My Deaf Friend
Morse, My Deaf Friend by Miloš Djurdjević
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in _Morse, My Deaf Friend_— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .

Read More >

The Crimson Thread of Abandon
The Crimson Thread of Abandon by Terayama Shūji
Reviewed by Robert Anthony Siegel

The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .

Read More >

Life Embitters
Life Embitters by Josep Pla
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .

Read More >

The Physics of Sorrow
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov
Reviewed by Izidora Angel

“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .

Read More >

Vano and Niko
Vano and Niko by Erlom Akhvlediani
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .

Read More >

The Indian
The Indian by Jón Gnarr
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .

Read More >

Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories
Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .

Read More >

Tristana
Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .

Read More >

The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

Read More >

Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

Read More >