By Yashika M. and Hayley Cadel
With interest in the international market and translated fiction increasing amongst readers, this issue we have chosen to delve into this. Compared to other countries, the UK reads far less translated fiction. In 2011, 3.2% of books read in the UK were translated fiction. Juxtaposed to this, Germany read 12.3%, France 15.9% and Italy 19.7%. Whilst translations of non-European books are on the rise, there are still very few novels outside of Europe that are translated into English. For example, between 2017 and 2019, only five Thai novels were translated into English. Moreover, of these five, four were translated by the same translator, Mui Poopoksakul. It has been argued that since the publication of the bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (translated by Steven T. Murray) in 2015, the interest in translated fiction has been steadily rising. In this article, we will focus on indie publishers who aim to redress this market imbalance.
Independent publishing houses are the root of the diversification of the publishing industry as we know it today. An unconventional yet flexible route to get recognised and published, indie presses are more than just a means of sourcing writers and publishing their work. They are also the hubs of literature and culture. Their contribution to discovering new international authors and poets and bringing them global acknowledgement is unmatched. Prominent publishing houses have always been faced with challenges when it comes to publishing international authors and there are multiple reasons for this. Ranging from marketing and budget issues, to publishing authors who are stable and known within the population, to employing translators to strike down the linguistic barrier. Lack of knowledge, efforts to break the literary barrier and often being limited by commercial boundaries and being unable to safely push boundaries to find newer, nuanced and unique talent are also shortcomings that need to be combated. Authors come from a variety of backgrounds therefore getting published by a famous press is indeed a one-time chance. Releasing a book by a contemporary author poses an economical and more of an intra-cultural obstacle, one that indie presses are prepared to break through. Indie presses in the UK can showcase underrepresented communities and their impeccable work by granting them a viable platform. Successful examples include the Japanese short story series Red Circle Minis by various authors and translators, and Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (translated by Janet Hong) and published by Drawn & Quarterly.
Today, there are many indie presses publishing international work in the UK and increasing access to the artistic diaspora, the impact of this is significant progress within the publishing industry in eradicating cultural stigma around literature and underrepresentation of authors of Colour. Stand-In Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi (translated by Raj Mahtani), and Backlight by Kanji Hanawa (translated by Richard Nathan) are both releases from Red Circle authors and have been very well-received by their audience. Keshiki and Yeoyu are story anthologies by modern Japanese and Korean writers released by Strangers Press. Publishing houses like Influx Press, Dead Ink Books and Cipher press have caught the public eye and continue celebrating all-inclusive literary fiction and have paved the way for upcoming presses as well.
However, it is not just indie presses and publishing houses which are transforming the landscape for translated fiction, literary prizes are also championing translated fiction and increasing their mass-market appeal. For example, The International Booker Prize was set up in 2005 for translated fiction published in the UK with the aim of highlighting quality literature from around the world. Alternatively, more recently, the TA First Translation Prize was founded in 2017 and exists to award debut translated fiction, with the prize being split between the author and the translator. Similarly, the Oxford-Weidenfield Prize was also established in 2017 to recognise book-length works of translation. Finally, The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation has been set up to recognise women authors translated into English to readdress the literary gender imbalance.
As mentioned, the UK translates and reads far less translated fiction than other counties, and whilst the percentage has increased to 5%, this is still comparatively low. So, we thought we’d leave with you a recommendation for an upcoming release. Following the success of The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, which was shortlisted for The Booker International Prize 2021, Marina Enriquez’s subsequent book will be published in October 2022: Our Share of Night (translated by Megan McDowell) is set during the Argentinian dictatorship and spans decades to narrate a father and son’s ordeal. We would also recommend signing up to newsletters from indie publishers and international book prizes to keep up-to-date with their releases.