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Europa Editions Translates Novels for the American Market

Americans are not known for being avid consumers of foreign literature. In fact, last year, only about 2 or 3% of new titles published in the US were translations of titles by non-English-speaking authors.

However, as the New York Times reports, an independent publishing company called Europa Editions has had quite a bit of success bucking the norm and selling translated novels at independent bookstores across the country.

The company is operated by a married couple from Italy.  Only 5 years old, the publishing house just reported its first profit last year. The company focuses on literary novels translated from European authors, such as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by French writer Muriel Barbery.

The book has sold 71,000 copies and has been on the New York Times’ trade paperback fiction best-seller list for the past 6 weeks. Although the novel was a hit in France, Germany and South Korea, it was an unlikely hit in the US, where most publishing houses are afraid to touch translated novels because they don’t think they will sell.

It would be wonderful to see more translated novels made available for American consumption. Perhaps Europa Editions’ success can prompt other publishing companies to follow suit.

As Sandro Ferri, one of the co-founders of the publishing house told the New York Times, “I have a universal, global feeling that everywhere people should read and could read books from different countries. Even if up to now, only 3 percent of the American books are books in translation, I think that this is not a reason that it should always be like that.”

Those ambitions are echoed by Kent Carroll, Europa’s publisher.  “We don’t want to be in that small-press translation ghetto. Our ambitions are large,” he said in the article.

Tolkien’s Beowulf Translation Coming This Spring

J.R.R. Tolkien fans and fans of Old English literature alike will get a treat this spring: Tolkien’s Beowulf translation will be published in May, according to the Guardian.

Edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary is due out of the 22 May. Included will be Tolkien’s translation of the epic poem, transcripts of Tolkien’s Beowulf-themed lectures from Oxford and a previously unpublished short story called “Sellic Spell,” based an Old Norse saga about Hrothgar’s family.  Be still, my geeky heart!

Tolkien was obviously fascinated by Beowulf.  The Guardian quotes him as calling it

“laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real”.

Themes and images from Beowulf appear throughout Tolkien’s work. Tolkien scholar John Garth told the Guardian that the story had

“a deep and detailed impact on what Tolkien wrote – from his earliest poem of Middle-earth, written in September 1914, right through The Hobbit with the theft of a cup from a dragon hoard, and The Lord of the Rings with the arrival at the halls of Rohan”.

Of course, when it comes to Beowulf, the real question is: How does Tolkien translate “Hwaet”? The first word in the text, “Hwaet” is an exclamation that has been translated as everything from “Listen!” to “Lo!” to the decidedly un-epic “So.”

There’s also some evidence that “Hwaet” may not have been a stand-alone interjection as it is usually treated, and that instead the famous first sentence should read something like this: “How we have heard of the might of the kings!”

There’s word yet on how Tolkien translated that tricksy opening line, but it will be interesting to see.