19 October 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

The long term impact of being the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair has been demonstrated time and again. Not only does this honor result in the translation of a country’s books into a languages around the world, but it also bolsters the book industry within the country itself.

The latter half of this statement was what Vladimir Grigoriev, the Deputy Head for the Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communication (and organizer of Russia’s 2003 Guest of Honor program), focused on in his presentation this morning on “Market Trends in Russia and Digital Publishing.” Grigoriev’s figures were pretty impressive. Since 2003, the overall production of titles in Russia has more than doubled from 47,700 to over 123,000 last year, and overall book sales have followed a similar trajectory, shooting up from $1.6 billion USD in 2003 to over $3 billion last year.

It’s not all good news though. The economic collapse of 2008 hit Russia pretty hard, including the book market. Although things could change over the next couple months, experts are projecting a 20% decrease in sales (to $2.4 billion USD) for 2009. According to Grigoriev, a recent study pointed to a decrease in reading among young people, and a startling statistic that “almost 40% of the population is not buying any books.”

When asked to name a few contemporary Russian authors worth reading, Grigoriev hedged, claiming that he could name a dozen or two, but that they weren’t on the level of Chekhov, Tolstoy, or other Russian Masters. He also pointed to the nonexistence of a “promotional infrastructure” (like the German Book Office or other similar, government funded agencies around the world) as one of the main reasons for the lack of translations of Russian works into other languages.

(As a U.S. publisher specializing in literature in translation, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. Granted, I love data. Numbers. Statistics. The Book Industry as Industry. Business and Growth. But damn it, I also love literature and reading. And finding new voices. Which is what the Frankfurt Book Fair is best at. Providing interested and curious editors with lists upon lists. With more recommendations than you can ever process. This is the second year in a row I’ve attended the Russian Book Presentation, and here’s to hoping that in 2010 the event will include a booklet featuring a dozen contemporary Russian writers whose last names aren’t Sorokin or Pelevin. . . . I will make my way over the official Russian stand at some point, so hopefully I’ll be posting a cool update to this sometime soon . . .)

On the eBook side of things, Alexander Roife, the CEO of LitRes.ru, highlighted the rapid sales growth Russian eBooks are experiencing. As he admitted, Russia is probably best known for its e-piracy and distribution of free books, music, and videos, but nevertheless, best-sellers on LitRes.ru—a legal eBook retailer founded in 2007—are selling between 3,000 and 6,000 copies. Which seems almost too good to be true . . . But if it is, Russia’s book market is definitely primed for a strong recovery from last year’s economic slump.

Comments are disabled for this article.
Rambling Jack
Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what. . .

Read More >

The Things We Don't Do
The Things We Don't Do by Andrés Neuman
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .

Read More >

Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

Read More >

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >