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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!

11 Great Books About Translation 

Are you looking for some good books about translation to add to your holiday reading list? We picked 11 of our favourites from several different genres.  Interested in history? Looking for romance? Suspense? It’s all here, so go get yourself a cup of hot tea and get ready to curl up by the fire!

Found in Translation

Found in Translation

How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

Through a series of carefully chosen anecdotes, industry legends Kelly and Zetzsche show “the surprising and complex ways that translation shapes the world.”

This is a fun read for translation-industry insiders and language geeks alike. It’s smart, but also entertaining and accessible. It’s on the reading list of every localisation sales team I know and there are stories in there which anyone in the language industry can relate to.

If you work in this industry, it’s one of the best books about translation to recommend when people ask “So, what is it you actually do again?” If the translation professional in your life doesn’t have this, I recommend you ask Santa to put it in their stocking this year.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

Lost in Translation

An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders

Lost in translationIn this New York Times bestseller, Ella Frances Sanders illustrates more than 50 words without direct English translations.  For example, take the German  Kabelsalat, meaning “a tangle of wires.” Here, it is illustrated by multi-coloured wires, tangled like spaghetti.

Razliubit, a Russian word for the bitter-sweet feeling of falling out of love, is illustrated by the figure of a person tumbling off a giant rose, with rose petals falling all around. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

Available on Amazon here.

Read more

French Readers Devour "50 Shades of Grey" Translation

50 Shades of Grey may have effortlessly taken the English-speaking world by storm, but what about the French? The answer may surprise you.

After all, in the country that gave us the Marquis de Sade, you’d expect readers to have more discriminating tastes when it comes to sadomasochism. French literary critics most certainly did. Here’s a sampling of the book’s critical reception, from the Daily Mail:

  • ‘It exposes the cultural gulf between the Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy and the old authentic sado-masochism of the French.’ — Les Inrocks Magazine
  • ‘Some couples may say it has helped their sex lives by reading it, but it’s as close to literature as Whiskas cat food is to gastronomy.’ — L’Express

And one more from the Guardian:

  • “It’s 50 shades of boredom.” — Slate.fr

The critics in France must have been sorely disappointed by the reactions of their countrywomen, as according to the Daily Mail the translation has become “the fastest selling book in French history.”

Here’s how Isabelle Laffont, managing director of JC Lattès, the book’s French publisher, explained the book’s appeal to the Guardian:

“We have been pleasantly surprised by the way the book has been received. Everyone says it’s not literature, which is true, but we are promoting it as the story of love like you have never read before. For the first time this is a book that is erotic but also about love. Previous books have had the eroticism but have been rather brutal, but this is a love story. It’s a bit hot in places, but it’s not perverse and the heroine is not a victim.”

Other possible explanations:

  • Curiosity killed the cat. (If you’re curious and haven’t read it yet, this post from the Everywhereist might help you resist the urge.)
  • Sometimes, you don’t want fine champagne and brie….you just want to curl up on the couch with a bottle of cheap wine and a box of Twinkies. This would be the literary equivalent of doing just that.

Finally, an Accurate Translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

A new English translation of the original volume of fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm was just published… and it’s nothing like the wonderful world of Disney.

The first edition of Grimm’s “Children’s and Household Tales” was published in 1812. The brothers collected tales from a variety of sources, including stories by French writer Charles Perrault, folk tales told by Wilhem Grimm’s wife Dortchen and her family, and a variety of tales collected from friends, acquaintances and German peasants the brothers met during their travels.

The 1812 edition features the type of grim, nightmarish stories that Old Nan would tell Bran in “Games of Thrones,” including such child-friendly fare as “How the Children Played at Slaughtering” (in which baby brother plays the pig) and “The Children of Famine.” The brothers began to clean up the stories in subsequent editions, and there has has never been an English translation of the original edition. Until now, thanks to scholar and German professor of German literature Jack Zipes.

Zipes told the Guardian,

“Though the Grimms kept about 100 of the tales from the first edition, they changed them a good deal. So, the versions with which most English-speaking (and German-speaking) readers are familiar are quite different from the tales in the first edition.”

Aside from all the added blood and gore, the new translation reveals some other interesting differences between the tales we thought we knew and loved and their originals. First of all, that whole “wicked stepmother” thing? That was not in the original stories; it was added into later editions by the brothers. The original evil queen was Snow White’s biological mother. Zipe told the Guardian he believes they made the change both because they “put motherhood on a pedestal” and because they were

“reflecting sociologically a condition that existed during their lifetime – jealousy between a young stepmother and stepdaughter”, because “many women died from childbirth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and there were numerous instances in which the father remarried a young woman, perhaps close in age to the father’s eldest daughter”.

Zipe wholeheartedly recommends reading the original stories to children, by the way. Use your own judgement here – I never thought I’d say this, but I think we might stick with Disney for a while!

Photo Credit: “Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood+” by Arthur Rackhamhttp://clubs.ya.ru/4611686018427432697/posts.xml?tag=11451979. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

5 Epic Literary Translations

It’s no secret that literature can be difficult to translate. That said, some books are definitely more challenging than others. Here are five novels that required epic levels of time and/or devotion from their translators.

1) Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

From a translator’s perspective, David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece could not have been more appropriately named. At one thousand pages of prose, with footnotes and 388 endnotes, the length alone makes translation an intimidating prospect. On top of that, there’s Wallace’s stream-of-consciousness prose style, packed with sly humour, allusions and hints that need to come through in the target language if readers are to have any chance of making sense of the tangled plot.

Nonetheless, Infinite Jest has been translated into six languages: German, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and French. The French translation just came out this year. It took two translators a dozen years to finish! Read more

Alice Learns a New Language

Her French skills may have been notoriously poor, but Alice, of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” fame, just learned a new language: Jèrriais.

Jèrriais is also known as Jersey French and is spoken only on the island of Jersey. The story of a little girl falling through a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world has long been a favorite of children all over the world. It’s already been translated into at least 97 languages, and as of this month, children in Jersey now have a version to call their own.

According to the BBC, Jèrriais author Geraint Jennings initially began translating the original book into the Jèrriais language as a side project, just for fun. Everytype, a publishing company that specializes in minority languages, found out about the project and requested a complete translation.

The island of Jersey has a long-standing literary tradition that goes back to the twelfth-century poet Wace. However, little early literature has survived the ages, and the language itself has been largely replaced by English. UNESCO classifies is as “severely endangered.”

These days, Jersey children grow up speaking English, though they may study Jèrriais in school as part of a program to revitalize it. This new translation gives them a little bit of an extra incentive to learn the language of their ancestors. Not only has the story been translated, it has been adapted so that Alice is from Jersey instead of England. Many other aspects of the story have been localised as well. For example, when Alice encounters a mouse after falling down the rabbit hole, she assumes it is a French mouse that arrived in England with William the Conqueror. For the Jèrriais translation, Jennings changed the scene somewhat to use local history instead.

He told the BBC,

“[Alice] is familiar with the Battle of Jersey in this version as it would make no sense when she meets the mouse in her lake of tears for her to imagine he speaks French and for him to have come over with William the Conqueror. As we know, William the Conqueror didn’t speak French, he was a Norman, so I make it that she knows the mouse as a French mouse who came over for the Battle of Jersey.”

The title also had to be tweaked to accommodate the local dialect. Jèrriais is closely related to French, and the French translation of the title is “Alice in the Land of Wonders.” In Jersey, however, “wonder” essentially means “donut.” Alice in Donutland, anyone?

Here’s how he handled the translation:

“I wanted to make it sound more like a country, so used Emervil’lie, which is a verbal noun that could translate as a state of wonderment. You could translate it as Alice in a state of wonderment or Alice in a wondering or Alice in a country which happens to be wonderland.”

All in all, this translation should make for interesting reading for anyone who speaks Jèrriais.

Dracula in Translation

Dracula in Translation

It’s almost Halloween! That means it’s an excellent time to reread your old horror favorites like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most cultures have some sort of indigenous vampire mythology. But Stoker’s novel helped spread the modern, Western image of the vampire around the world.  What dark, supernatural powers made it so influential?

The power of translation, of course! Here are 6 facts about Dracula around the world that you might not have heard before.

Dracula is available in at least 29 languages.

Dracula has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1897. During that time, it has been translated into at least 29 languages. That’s not quite Translation Hall of Fame material but it’s not too shabby, either.

Dracula’s origins are lost in translation.

Many people think Stoker based Dracula on the historical Wallachian ruler Vlad III, or Vlad the Impaler. But this is likely a myth. There are certainly some similarities between the two figures. For example, some English speaking texts call Vlad Tepes “Voivode Dracula.” And the Count talks about fighting Turks as a mortal. But there’s not much evidence that Stoker modeled his fictional vampire on Vlad the Impaler. Read more

Translation Award Winner Tells Story of Afghan Refugee

Reading stories from other languages gives you amazing insight into the lives of people from other cultures. However, unfortunately it can be difficult to get people in English-speaking countries to read literature that has been translated from another language.

In fact, according to the Guardian, only 3% of the books, poems and stories published in the UK are translations. Since 1996, The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation has been awarded every two years to highlight the best young adult translations and to encourage more translations in the future. Read more

Google Fined Over French Books

According to the BBC a Paris court has fined Google 300,000 euros (£266,000) in damages and interest for copyright infringement of books owned by French publisher La Martiniere.

La Martiniere was one of many publishers to take Google to court for digitising books without explicit permission.

Google have also been told that they will have to pay 10,000 euros a day until it has removed extracts of the books from its database.

Google had planned to scan millions of books to make them available online; this ruling may have ramifications for this plan.

The BBC report that this case will be seen as a victory for critics of the plan who fear Google is creating a monopoly over information.

The publisher Herve de la Martiniere launched his court case three years ago but Google continued to scan books throughout this time.

This is a big set back for the web giant Google.

9 Books to Read for Women in Translation Month

Did you know that August is Women in Translation Month? If you’re wondering what that means, let me explain.  Women in Translation Month is a month to highlight translated works by female writers. In the world of literary translation, women are seriously underrepresented.

How underrepresented? You’re probably familiar with the statistic that only about 3% of published works in the US and the UK are translated from other languages. Well, of that 3%,  only about 30% of new translations into English are books by women writers.  Books by female authors are translated at a lower rate around the world, even in Europe.

With that in mind, here are 9 books to read for women in translation month. Read the ones that pique your interest and you’ll soon start to wonder what else you’re missing out on!

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was


Author: Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula LeGuin

In a 2016 interview, Meytal Radzinski, the scholar behind Women in Translation Month, called this book her “go-to first choice for just about any type of favorite book these days! It’s such a special book, gorgeously written and so utterly magical.”

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was is the history of an imaginary nameless empire, as told by multiple storytellers.  Translator Ursula Le Guin is an acclaimed fantasy author in her own right.  So it’s not surprising that publisher Small Beer Press boasts that “Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing.” Read more