There’s an opinion in publishing that literature in translation doesn’t sell— that the books are dense and unapproachable, and that Americans won’t read authors whose names we can’t pronounce. Norman Manea (The Lair, Yale Margellos) says books in translation are thought to be “too ‘complicated,’ which is another way of saying that literature should deal with simple issues in a simple way.”
Haruki Murakami once said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” If that’s true, people who read international literature are true iconoclasts. Only about three percent of all books published in the United States are works in translation. In terms of literary fiction and poetry, that number drops below one percent. And mainstream reviewers ignore most of the books that make it through the translation process into print.
I’m relatively new to world literature myself, but now I’m on a tear, sifting through publishers like Dalkey Archive, Open Letter, New Directions, Seagull Books, New York Review Books, Archipelago, Europa Editions, and Yale’s Margellos World Republic of Letters. I follow the Center for the Art of Translation, German Book Office and Center for Writers and Translators on Facebook. I make long lists of books that I can’t wait to buy and read.
These are some great destinations and portals:
Three Percent is a fantastic site, particularly their review page. They’re responsible for The Best Translated Book Award, and the annual countdown to their short list provides daily sterling recommendations. They have a podcast that’s a must, if for nothing else but Chad Post and Tom Roberge’s publishing industry trash talk. They also discuss film, music, and sports—sometimes soccer, a big plus. Beware of f-bombs.
Center for the Art of Translation also has a podcast, Two Voices. A little more formal than Three Percent – most are recordings of their events. They just had a workshop with translator Margaret Jull Costa, best known for her translations of Jose Saramago and Javier Marias. They run a program Poetry Inside Out, in which students are given the tools to enable them to translate work by the world’s great poets. (My friend Maggie Foster won an award for a poem she wrote based on her translation of Para hablar con los muertos by Jorge Teillier, when she was eleven.) The Quarterly Conversation has reviews, articles and interviews. It’s home to the blog Conversational Reading, another great source for recommendations. These four sites fit together somehow that’s not entirely clear to me and they have Scott Esposito in common.
Love German Books is the blog of the Berlin-based translator Katy Derbyshire. My favorite part is an advance peek at books that are currently in translation or that have just been translated, and have yet to be published in America.
Brittany Hazelwood of the German Book Office and Samantha Steele of the French Publisher’s Agency recently created Publishing the World, A Young Book Professional’s Guide to Translation. Their site has news, book reviews, and a book club. Very smart, very fun.
These three recent books are great:
Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (New Directions)–Krasznahorkai is a genius, one of the best authors writing, anywhere.
Almost Never by Daniel Sada (Graywolf Press)–Fans of Daniel Sada include Robert Bolano, Carlos Fuentes and Francisco Goldman. Translator Katherine Silver just received an NEA fellowship to translate three more Daniel Sada novels.
George Carroll is an independent publishers’ representative for university and academic presses, an associate of Seagull Books of Kolkata and an audiobook narrator. He’s also the soccer editor of Shelf Awareness and he blogs at TheCroakingRaven.com. He’s currently reading Dark Company by Gert Loschutz, translated by Samuel P. Willcocks.