International Translation Day occurs every year on 30th September to celebrate the work of translators in publishing. It’s a good day to celebrate their work and it’s a good day to focus on books in translation. We need to do this from time to time because books in translation do not form a very large part of our reading diet – just 4%. Not much is published, not much is read.
Fiction in Translation
Daniel Hahn is a translator. He suggests that literary translations are founded on these principles:
It assumes that just because you’re from Here doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be reading stories from There. That it’s possible to strip a story of its language, wrest it thousands of miles, re-clothe it in a strange new language, and keep its essence intact – because stories can be citizens of the world, just like we can. That just because something is particular doesn’t mean it’s not universal. (A basic principle for all great literature, surely?) That openness to other literatures – and other narratives, and lives, and worlds – doesn’t threaten our own, it strengthens and enlivens it.
[From Carrying Across, in The Author, Summer 2017].
Only 4% of fiction published in the UK is in translation. Of that 4% about 20% is by women. Partly to correct this Meytal Radzinski who writes the Biblibio blog promoted events with the hashtag #WITMonth: Women in Translation month for August, and encouraged people to join in. This year it was very successful again. There were articles in advance that included lists of recommendations. Here’s an example: 13 books by women writers to add to your Reading List for #WITMonth from the Booksatchel Blog. And here’s another list from Jacquiwine’s blog for the same event.
And recently (13th September) the long list for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation has been published. You can find it here.
These events and posts feature many recommended books in translation.
To maintain the impetus of #WITMonth I announced in August my project to read at least one book by a woman in translation every month and to write a response here on Bookword blog. These are my reasons:
Fiction in English does not hold the monopoly on quality. A great deal of excellent fiction is written in other languages. If the job of fiction is to take you to new worlds I want to explore those other worlds written in another language as well as those in English. Promoting fiction in translation is part of my intention for this blog.
Fiction by men does not hold the monopoly on quality either. Promoting fiction by women is another purpose of my blog. Women’s fiction gets less space in the printed media than men’s. See VIDA statistics for how much less.
I will promote women in translation over the next year or so and I am doing this at a time when popular culture favours creating barriers not making connections across language and gender. I hope you will be inspired by some of my choices.
Here are recommendations from the last 12 months, some of which appear in the linked lists and posts above:
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors, translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra.
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan, translated from the French by Irene Ash.
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal el Saadawi, translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.
I’m planning to read these novels very soon:
The Quest for Christa T by Christa Wolf, (1968) translated by Christopher Middleton.
Go, Went, Gone by Jennifer Erpenbeck, (2017) translated by Susan Bernofsky.
Over to you
Tell us which novels in translation would you recommend from your reading?
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