British Readers Devour Translated Novels

In a refreshing change from the status quo, British readers are gobbling up translated novels and books from foreign authors. Previously, the conventional wisdom in the publishing industry was that consumers in the UK, as well as in other large English-speaking countries like America,  were simply not interested in reading translated literature.

As Liz Foley,  publishing director at Harvill Secker, told the Guardian:

“There used to be a feeling translations were ‘good for you’ and not enjoyable … like vegetables … But actually they’re wonderful books.”

That appears to be changing. For example, the Guardian cites research from Literature Across Frontiers that shows the market for translated books has grown by 18% over the past 20 years.  Translations that have made the bestseller list include work from Scandinavian authors, most notably The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson and crime novels by Jo Nesbø.

It’s not just translations from our European neighbors that are making waves. Bookstores across Britain were mobbed by customers looking for the latest translation novel from Japanese author Murakami.

This is great news for smaller publishing houses that focus on foreign books, according to Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press:

“There has been an increase. Pushkin Press’s sales doubled last year and are on track to double or even triple this year.”

However, we still have a ways to go.  BJ Epstein, of the  British Centre for Literary Translation, told The Guardian:

“Mainstream publishers are still very much about the bottom line. They really do underestimate the public, [assuming] that British people don’t want to read about people in China or Iceland.”

It’s wonderful that translated literature is becoming so much more readily available and accepted.  What translated books have you read recently? Do you have any recommendations? Let us know in the comments!

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