22 October 08 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog.

Catalan Culture was last year’s Guest of Honor at the Fair, and put on a huge display of Catalan culture, and producing a number of slick publications and presentations to help make people aware of their rich literary tradition. (It’s sad, but I think a lot of Americans–and possibly others–think that Catalan is a Spanish dialect rather than recognizing that it’s a unique language. Again, Horace Engdahl, lack of literature in translation, America isolationism, etc., etc., etc.) Based on the sheer number of people visiting their booth and attending their fabulous parties, it seemed pretty successful, and based on my conversation with Carles Torner of the Ramon Llull Insitut, this positive effect has carried over quite well.

“Being the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair was very important to us,” Torner said. “By the end of this year there will have been as many translations of Catalan books into other languages as there was in 2007.” Which sounds sort of static, but is actually a huge gain considering that 53 titles (including a lot of multi-volume titles) were published in German in preparation for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

(I’m going to digress for a moment here: as I typed that it occured to me just how special it is to be the Guest of Honor. And just how civil, bookish, and outward looking the German publishing scene is. There’s a better chance of the Cubs winning the World Series than American publishers getting together and publishing a shitload of books in translation in preparation for BookExpo America. Dead horse, beating it, I know, I know, but for all doubters of Engdahl’s statments, here’s another instance pointing to just how right he is.)

(Another digression: the press I run is publishing three Catalan works over the next eighteen-months thanks to last year’s FBF and an amazing visit to Barcelona.)

Carles’s feeling is that the publication of Catalan literature–classic, modern, and contemporary–by German publishers sent a message to the rest of the publishing world. Jaume Cabre is a perfect example. After being published by Surhkamp for the Fair, his latest novel Les veus del Pamano was picked up by Dutch, Italian, French, and even Romanian publishers. That’s how the network of publishers I’ve mentioned before functions: if a couple well-respected presses publish a book, it sends a message to everyone else that they should pay attention. (Well–again with the horse–except maybe in the case of Le Clezio. He’s published by Hanser in Germany and many other fantastic presses, but Simon & Schuster doesn’t seem to be rushing his books back into print . . .)

In terms of numbers, over 80 translations of Catalan books came out last year around the world (or at least were subsidized by the Ramon Llull Institut) and that number will likely be broken this year.

Carles also mentioned that another great effect of being the Guest of Honor is the fact that they no longer have to spend time explaining what Catalonia is–something that used to be a huge problem. But now there are other problems. Similar to the situation with Dutch and China (see my earlier post), some Greek publishers became very interested in acquiring Catalan works last year, but at the time there were no Catalan to Greek literary translators . . . So the Ramon Llull Insitut organized a special seminar, helped get some translators up to speed, and now eight books are under contract with Greek publishers.

Since last year’s Fair, the Ramon Llull Institut has continued to expand its activities, hosting a number of events at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival (including one to celebrate the Review of Contemporary Fiction’s New Catalan Writing issue), planning a seminar in New York in November 2009 to bring together translators, critics, and publishers interested in Catalan culture, and opening an office in New York next year.


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 >