Polyglot your tongue?
Où sont les traductions? ¿Donde están las traducciones? Dove sono le traduzioni? Wo sind die Übersetzungen? Missä ovat käännöksiä?
The US has never been a hotbed for literature in translation. Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, the organization that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, created a bit of a brouhaha in 2008 when he said,
Europe is still the center of the literary world, and he suggested that American writers were
too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture. He added:
The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.
There are some small signs that things are beginning to change. Open Letter—the University of Rochester’s publishing house—runs a website called Three Percent that is devoted to books in translation. In May, Amazon.com announced AmazonCrossing as a means of bringing more World Literature to America’s bookshelves. They also just announced that they would underwrite the Best Translated Book Award 2011.
Without translators, how many of you would have read the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Hugo, Camus, Borges, Neruda, Garcia-Marquez, Lorca, Flaubert, Proust, Pasolini, Kafka, Sun Tzu, Balzac, Goethe, Tagore, or Pushkin?
Would you have even heard of Roberto Bolano, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Yukio Mishima, Haruki Murakami, Umberto Eco, Giuseppe di Lampedusa or Isabel Allende?
Orhan Pamuk, Jean-Phillipe Touissant, Benoit Duteurtre…? ¿quiénes son?
If we want U.S. publishers to translate foreign works, we need to support their efforts by buying their books. Next time you’re in the mood for something from across the pond, take a look at the offerings from Archipelago Books, Dalkey Archive Press, Other Press, New Directions, David Godine or take a peek at Three Percent to see what they recommend. They all do a good job of making the effort to bring foreign works to our attention.
Oh, and the latest Nobel winner—Mr. Vargas Llosa—it’s a good thing he was translated into English because mi español es muy limitado.