4 March 09 | Chad W. Post

Continuing my random recollections of last week’s Salzburg Global Seminar on Translation in a Global Culture, I thought that today I’d write about Anuvela, a really interesting “translation collective” that I learned about at the seminar.

In brief, Anuvela is a collective of seven translators (six women and one man) who work together to produce translations into Spanish of best-selling English works. (For example, one recent project Ana Alcaina talked about was Anuvela’s translation of Ken Follett’s World Without End.) This is a pretty interesting work model: they negotiate the contract as a group, they split up the text itself, they use a Google doc spreadsheet to share info about how they’re translating particular terms, and they share the financial benefits and copyright recognition. (It’s worth noting that for each group translation, the person designated as the manager and contact person is responsible for working with the publisher and making sure the end product is consistent and smooth.)

As demonstrated in yesterday’s post about translation statistics, books written in English dominate the global marketplace, especially in West European countries such as Spain. Which is why the idea of Anuvela works. As an American translator, can you imagine being in a situation where your skills are in such demand that you have to form a collective to take on all the work being made available to you?

This presentation was one of the moments during the seminar that we started to see all the different bifurcations that separated both the participants and the various markets we represented.

Although Bolano’s 2666 has sold tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of copies, and although The Kindly Ones (as described in today’s Times article by Motoko Rich) is primed to do the same, best-selling translations are a real anomaly in America. Which is completely the opposite in other countries throughout the world where translations of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo dominate the bestseller lists.

This difference played a significant role in shaping the conversation of the small work group that I was a part of. We were assigned to talk about “how to influence publishers”—an interesting topic, and one that has a variety of answers depending on which market you’re looking at.

Here in America (or even in the English-speaking world in general), we tend to focus on the severe lack of translations being done these days. So our response to such a topic is to try and find ways to get publishers to do more books. But in Europe, the issue isn’t necessarily the production numbers (although there could always be more translations among non-English languages), but on the work conditions of the translator.

I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but CEATL studied pay rates for translators across Europe and found that in almost every single country, full-time translators earn less than your average manufacturing or service worker. Usually in the range of 80-85% of what these workers make. Which is incredibly disturbing and discouraging—what is the future of translation when you’re better off learning to drive a truck than learning the art of translation?

But this divide between the situation in the English-speaking market and the European market (not to mention the Arabic market, African market, Asian market, etc.) is only one of the divides that molded our general conversations. Sticking with markets for a second, the other rhetorical/philosophical divide that I picked up on was the difference between leaving translation to the marketplace and the nonprofit tendency.

I think I’d need a few blog posts to really work out all the intricacies of this, but when talking about literature—especially literature in translation—we tend to look to marketplace successes (like the Bolano or The Elegance of the Hedgehog) as inspirational models, while at the same time, employing the rhetoric of the nonprofit and the need for most translations to be subsidized in some way.

Restricting this to America and the UK, it’s easy to think that in the post-_2666_ world, more commercial presses will be willing to “take a chance” on a translation, since it’s been proven that American readers will buy a really long, really complicated book in translation. Yet at the same time, a lot of discussion and programs center around the need for translation subsidies, since the additional cost of the translation is a deterrents to a lot of publishing houses. But are these $3,000-$7,000 grants that much of an incentive to a place like FSG or Random House? (Again, Harper paid almost $1 million for the rights to The Kindly Ones, and I highly doubt that the possibility of getting a grant for the translation was what convinced them to make the offer.)

So in this bifurcation, we have commercial presses that are totally beholden to the marketplace, and to impact them—to cause them to a) publish more translations and b) to do a more consistent and better job at promoting these books—the market itself has to change. There has to be more readers for literature in translation. But, as Harold Augenbraum pointed out in his recent Reading Ahead post, the question is larger than that. It’s not that we need to cultivate readers for literary translations, we need to cultivate more readers for literature as a whole.

Putting aside the commercial market for a minute, we know that the independents and nonprofits and university presses are publishing 80%+ of all works of literature in translation. And for these presses, that $3,000-$7,000 grant makes a world of difference. Although these presses are also subject to the whims of the marketplace (at least on some level), the stakes aren’t nearly as high, and they can survive on some grant money and sales of 3,000-5,000 copies. This isn’t to say that these presses don’t want to sell 75,000 copies, but the imbalance of the marketplace (except in a few instances, these presses don’t have the means to be distributed to all bookstores and WalMart stores like Harper or Penguin or whomever) makes it extremely unlikely that sales like that will ever happen.

But for all sorts of obvious reasons, the big commercial successes are the books that dominate the media, are stacked up on bookstore tables (again with The Kindly Ones — why doesn’t Stan Hynds order a “stackable quantity” of one of our translations? I’m not convinced that there’s something intrinsically more “readable” or “appealing” or whatever in a literary translation coming from Harper as one from Open Letter—this is a function of the marketplace not of the quality of the work itself), that will sell googles of copies and will serve as the template for how to “successfully publish” a work in translation. Meaning that the bulk of publishers doing literature—and literature in translation—should emulate this model?

I really don’t have a clear point here (sorry to both of you who are still reading this), but it seems to me that when we talk about translation (or literature) we’re looking at one big, messy picture of the market, one that’s filled with compromises. (Translators do some schlock to pay for the right to translate a book they love, publishers do some more commercial titles to make up for the literary ones that won’t sell, etc.) So in trying to come up with recommendations on how to “influence publishers” or maybe how to influence the publishing landscape as a whole, it seems worthwhile to consider whether we want to push the indie/nonprofit/university presses into a more commercial model (grants to help them market and distribute their books to better “compete” with the commercial presses) or ignore the conventional marketplace entirely and look for new systems of support and audience development that will allow publishers to survive by doing literary translations without holding them to the same standards as more commercial presses.

Anyway, looking at it in this way, it seems next to impossible that we were able to come up with any suggestions/recommendations for how to influence publishers. But we did, and I’ll share some of our ideas later this week . . .


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 >