Sunday, November 18, 2007


Hmm, I Don't Know.... Does Sudoku Count?

Friday's Guardian takes on a problem which has been really, really... really bothering me: the appalling lack of translated modern works in our bookstores. (I cannot even tell you what a mortifying experience it was to walk into a well-stocked bookstore in Milan and to recognize... nothing.)

Well, it turns out my dread now has some statistics to quantify it:

In stark contrast to publishing throughout the rest of the globe, translated fiction accounts for only a tiny fraction of the books published in the English-speaking world. In Germany 13% of books are translations. In France it's 27%, in Spain 28%, in Turkey 40% and in Slovenia 70%, but in Britain and America the best estimates suggest that the fraction of books on the shelves which started off in another language is somewhere around two per cent. One measure of the lack of interest in translated literature from both government and the industry is that Britain is the only country in Europe that doesn't produce any statistics on translation.

It's a state of affairs described by translators as "shocking", "pathetic", "scandalous". And according to Esther Allen, the executive director of Columbia University's Centre for Literary Translation, the crisis may be even deeper in fiction. "The number of novels being published in translation is ridiculously small - in the hundreds each year," she says. "If you sort out the authors who are already globally validated - Nobel winners and so on - and the retranslations of the classics, then it's absurd."

Two percent?... They must be referring to the UK there, because I'd call that figure generous for the US.

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