21 November 08 | Chad W. Post

This is the fifth part of a presentation I gave to the German Book Office directors last week. Earlier sections of the speech can be found here. And we’ll probably be posting bits and pieces of this for the next week or so.

Obviously there’s more that goes into the resistance of commercial publishers to translations—such as the fact that most editors are monolingual, that without investing a lot of time in international literature it’s hard to know which titles and authors are the most important, that there aren’t as many agents for international works as for American and British writers, that only select editors attend the Frankfurt book fair (it’s all about selling, not buying)—but it all adds up to a situation in which America is “too isolated, too insular,” where we “don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” which is how Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, recently categorized it.

Prejudices, financial losses, and bum legs aside, a number of translations are published in the U.S. every year. In January, I started keeping track of all original translations of fiction and poetry published or released in America this year. (In part because nobody else was. Bowker—the company that keeps track of all statistics about American publishing eliminated “translation” as a category years ago.) I didn’t count children’s books, or graphic novels, or retranslations of classics, or paperback versions of previously published titles. Instead, I focused on works of adult fiction and poetry that had never before been published in English.

According to my records, all of 340 translations were published in the past year. Of those translations, 269 are works of fiction, 71 of poetry. More relevant to this presentation, the six big houses—Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster—and all their various subsidiaries, published a total of 69 works in translation, or 20% of the total. Most of these 69 books are from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (10), Penguin (9), FSG (9), Knopf (8), and HarperCollins (6), five of the one hundred and thirty presses and imprints that published a translation this year.

In the same way that poetry has fallen to the shoulders of the independent press, approx. 80% of all works of literary translation are now being published by independent, nonprofit, and university presses, which generally don’t operate on the “big advance-big return” model described above.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

Read More >

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

Read More >

Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

Read More >

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