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.