Lost in Translations

Over the past few years there has been a growing and vocal enthusiasm for English translations of international fiction. Publishers like New Directions and Dalkey Archives, encouraged by the popularity and success of writers like Robert Bolaño, have grown more active publishing translations. Book stores have started arranging their fiction shelves by country of origin. In 2007 the University of Rochester’s translation program founded the translation-centered web site Three Percent and the affiliated publishing company Open Books. In New York City, where I live, I have observed how the spread of digital information has created a community of readers, myself among them, that wants to explore contemporary currents in foreign literature while rediscovering internationally renowned writers like Clarice Lispector who are little known in the United States.

As a semi-regular feature on Re:Print I will be discussing translations — reviewing new releases, celebrating innovative publishing, and exploring issues and trends in the market. I plan on delving more deeply into these topics, but for this first entry I would like to highlight some recent news of note:

— A few weeks back I reviewed the anthology Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksandar Hemon.

Since then the Guardian’s Books department has recorded a podcast dedicated to European literature and translations that includes an interview with Hemon about Best European Fiction, an interview with translator Anthea Bell, and an amusing look at the bestseller lists throughout Europe. It is available as a stream or download on their web site and is worth a listen.

— Last week’s big news was the announcement of the shortlist for Three Percent’s Best Translated Book Awards for fiction and poetry at Idlewild Books in New York City. The fiction finalists are as follows:

César Aira, Ghosts. Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (Argentina, New Directions)

Gerbrand Bakker, The Twin. Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer. (Netherlands, Archipelago)

Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, Anonymous Celebrity. Translated from the Portuguese by Nelson Vieira. (Brazil, Dalkey Archive)

Hugo Claus, Wonder. Translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim. (Belgium, Archipelago)

Wolf Haas, The Weather Fifteen Years Ago. Translated from the German by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen. (Austria, Ariadne Press)

Gail Hareven, The Confessions of Noa Weber. Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. (Israel, Melville House)

Jan Kjærstad, The Discoverer. Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland. (Norway, Open Letter)

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future. Translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull. (Russia, New York Review Books)

José Manuel Prieto, Rex. Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen. (Cuba, Grove)

Robert Walser, The Tanners. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. (Switzerland, New Directions)

In whittling the entries down from the longlist, the jury has chosen to highlight lesser-known works, eliminating translations of Robert Bolaño, Orhan Pamuk, and Fernando del Paso.

Having not read any of the finalists, I can’t fault their choices and I appreciate that they nominated lesser known works. But there is a notable absence of any books representing Asian or African countries, particularly the many fine translations of Chinese fiction that has been released over the past year like Yu Hua’s Brothers and Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants.

Let us know in the comments section what books you would have nominated.

The winners will be announced at Idlewild on March 10.

— Finally and speaking of Idlewild, owner David Del Vecchio is writing for the Huffington Post. His first post discusses the Best Translated Book Awards and international literature.