Fiction in Translation
By Mary Karayel, Alexandra Constable, Aisling O’Mahony and Hayley Cadel
Following the announcement of the International Booker Prize longlist, we decided to focus on translated fiction. The UK publishing industry has historically favoured UK- and US-based fiction, meaning that fiction from other global markets is overlooked. While translating from English to other languages is quite common, the reverse is less so. A statistic known as the “Three Percent Problem” emerged in previous years from reports that suggested only 3% of titles published in the US were translated works. Though the numbers were higher in other countries, translated works have generally always been far fewer than works written in English. In this issue, we look at the emerging trend of translated fiction with publishers increasingly looking abroad for a fresh perspective to bring into the market.
Publishers of Translated Fiction
The leading publisher of translated fiction in the US is an imprint of Amazon known as Amazon Crossing. It publishes a whole host of genres in a multitude of languages from across the world, enabling speakers of English to experience and enjoy a diverse range of literature. Similarly, Calypso Editions specialises in translating non-English works into English, enabling its community of readers to access a range of international authors. Other publishers, such as Action Books, welcome manuscript submissions from any language. These texts are translated from various languages – such as Swedish, Japanese and Korean – into English, thus becoming accessible to thousands of new readers. These publishing houses are vital for promoting the circulation of literary masterpieces from across the world. As more and more of these institutions crop up, we expect to see a rise in the publication of translated fiction.
Due to the ongoing popularity of translated fiction, there are now a number of literary awards dedicated to recognising such talent. This month the longlist for the highly esteemed International Booker Prize was announced and boasts works of fiction translated into English from eleven languages, originating from twelve different countries across four continents. The prize was originally set up in 2005 to complement the Man Booker Prize and recognise contributions to literature written in languages other than English. Previous winners of the award include The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi and The Vegetarian by Han Kang. This year’s longlist includes previous winners Olga Tokarczuk, David Grossman and Jessica Cohen, alongside authors translated into English for the first time. Here are a few of the longlisted titles we think you should check out: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung and After the Sun by Jonas Eika. The shortlist for the award will be announced on 7 April and the overall winner will be revealed in May.
Another award that recognises literature in translation is the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, which was first started in 2017 to address the gender imbalance in translated literature. Submissions for this prize do not open until April, but from previous shortlists, we recommend Yan Ge’s Strange Beasts of China, translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang, and An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, which was translated from German by Jackie Smith.
In addition to literary awards, a number of literary festivals have focused on translated literature. For instance, the Pop Up Festival of Multilingual Literature was established in 2021 to encourage students to explore literature outside of their mother tongue. The festival ran in primary and secondary schools in London and pushed students to take an active role by translating the literature themselves. In 2022, they plan to expand to other areas. A similar literary festival focusing on translation is Found in Translation, a festival based in Pittsburgh which was also established last year. The festival featured talks from prominent authors such as Olga Tokarczuk, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Mieko Kawakami and consisted of bilingual readings and talks about translation as a craft. It also featured discussions about the need for more representation within the translation community.
And if all this has piqued your interest, we thought we’d leave you with some recommendations. First, Blood Feast by Malika Moustadraf, translated by Alice Guthrie (Feminist Press 2022), is a selection of short stories published posthumously. In this selection, Moustadraf interrogates gender and sexuality in North Africa. Another recent release is Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda, translated by Sarah Booker (Coffee House Press, 2022) which grapples with the occult, strange rituals and secret societies.
The audience for translated works has certainly grown in recent years. Small, independent presses in particular excel at publishing high-quality literature in translation. Awards like the International Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Translated Literature give translated works the recognition they deserve, while festivals such as PEN World Voices provide writers and translators with a space to speak about their work. All of this suggests there has been a definite rise in appreciation for translated literature which will hopefully continue to grow.