Most everyone who reads this blog has a good grasp on the importance of literature in translation. You learn about other cultures, their writing styles, what drives them spiritually and politically, what kinds of house pets they may or may not eat or wear occasionally as clothing, how they really feel about things like Speedos or public intoxication (note: OR, not AND), etc.
But let’s whittle that down a step or two, make the direction this is going in more specific. What is also important is to realize the specific significance of translating world literature into wider-read languages, in this case English. All arguments about how English being the prime international language of choice aside, translating world literature into English is a way to immediately introduce great works to a much, much broader audience. An audience that may read the English translation, say “OMG MY COUNTRYMEN NEED TO READ THIS,” and then go on to bring said work of world literature to their country, which may in turn make the book available to more audience in much the same way. “Audience” applies both to general readers and publishers.
A few days ago we at Open Letter received an email from Hohe Publishing, an Ethiopian publishing house, asking for information on Latvian author Inga Ābele’s High Tide: they had read the English translation, enjoyed the book, and now were interested in acquiring rights for an Ethiopian edition. A few days after that, we received an email from the Latvian publisher, Dienas Grāmata, that Hohe Publishing had made an offer, and that they were planning on translating from the English version of the book . . .
This is an example of two very significant purposes for getting world lit translated, and translated into English. Not only does this English language version of the book allow the Latvian press to shop it around to other foreign publishers (much in the same way a translation sample does, except times 500), but it also gives rights-interested foreign presses another source language option from which to translate the book. How many Latvian-to-Amharic translators are there? Probably only one. Somewhere. BUT—how many English-to-Amharic translators are there? Probably more than one.
I don’t mean to imply that, in the case of High Tide, the Swedish translation of the novel is without benefits—the Swedish translation would obviously open doors to other Scandinavian countries. But again . . . how many Swedish-to-Amharic translators are there? It’s with good reason that we ask foreign publishers for French, German, or Spanish language samples of books in the event an English sample is not available. What English (and these other languages) does is function as kind of an infinite hour-glass shape: it first expands the readership, which then slowly narrows back down and trickles through to “smaller” languages, which in turn opens back up and expands yet again to a new group of readers. And so on and so forth. The course these metaphorical grains of sand take will vary, and though their destinations do as well, there’s no real “point of disembarking” because we’re talking about the general lifespan of a work, of which the grains are an integral part, and which, in this infinite-hourglass-shape in my brainspace, will take part in a never-ending, forward-moving cycle.
The importance and benefits to getting world literature into translation are countless. For Inga Ābele, it means that her book will be read by yet another audience that would have otherwise remained, most likely, unreached. It seems completely random and it kind of is, because ETHIOPIA, but things like this wouldn’t be possible without literary translation (or the awesome publishers that help bring these books to more readers around the world). Translated literature not only opens the door for readers of a respective language, but it also points the way to myriad other doors leading to other languages.
“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.”
“And this—what. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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.. . .
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. . .
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. . .