Indonesian Literature Gets Translated

Unless their work is translated into English, novelists are basically shut out from a large part of the international market. Now, according to the Jakarta Globe, Indonesian authors will get their books translated as part of the Lontar Foundation’s “Modern Library of Indonesia” project.

The project will begin by translating just ten Indonesian novels into English, but 40 more are expected to follow in the next 3 years.

This is big deal for the authors involved, as the article in the Jakarta Globe makes clear. Indonesian writer Dewi Lestari called the English translation of her book “Supernova” a “dream come true,” and explained that the lack of a translation has made it more difficult for her to progress in her writing career. She explained, “In the past, I have been invited to some writers’ festivals abroad. The participants always seemed very interested in my presentation, but when they asked me, ‘Where can I get your book?’ I always had to say that there wasn’t an English language translation yet.”

Also, the scarcity of translated Indonesian writing has created a perception in other countries that Indonesia doesn’t produce good fiction. For example, Indonesian writer Putu Wijaya told the Globe that in 1985, “An American man approached me and asked if I was from the Philippines. When I said I was from Indonesia, he was surprised and said he didn’t know there were writers in Indonesia.”

Ouch! Of course, when great books don’t get translated, it’s not just Indonesia’s loss… it’s the English-speaking world’s, too. Imagine how many worthwhile novels we never get a chance to a read! As translator John McGlynn, one of the founders of the project, put it, “With this series, readers abroad can get to know our local writers, and through their books, Indonesian history over the last couple of decades.”

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