During a recent trip to Paris, I mentioned to various French publishers that in the UK, nostalgia for the underground movements of the last thirty years is flourishing. Yet despite the outpouring of books, films, documentaries, compilation CDs and exhibitions like the Vivienne Westwood, it is obvious to me that one side of the London-New York-Paris “golden triangle” has been overlooked. Between artists there is always a cross-fertilisation of ideas, and the effect of the Parisian underground remains influential. Grace Jones learned devices for subversive performance during her time at Fabrice Emaer’s legendary club, Le Palace — the Studio 54 of its day — and Madonna was backup singer and dancer for disco star Patrick Hernandez when his hit “Born To Be Alive” went global.
I argued that people who enjoy reading, and relish the likes of Michael Bracewell, Ben Myers, Jeff Noon and Robert Elms should be given a chance to check out their French counterparts. But I was told by the French publishers that English publishers are not interested in a certain type of French culture, and translation is seen as a risky venture, so to pitch offbeat or outrageous books considered to have limited sales potential would be a waste of time. Bonjour tristesse. From idea to bookstore the reader comes last in a long line of corporate decision-makers, in a game of blind man’s bluff. Continue reading Beauty Victims & Le Glam-trash Littéraire | first published in 2005 by 3ammagazine.com
Britain is part of Europe – like it or not! Border controls do not function when it comes to words since ideas have no borders. Disseminating knowledge and cultural awareness is ever more crucial as prejudice and discrimination make an unwelcome (re)appearance on the Western stage. Books in translation matter more than ever.
As part of the build up to France’s invitation of honour to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2017, a series of discussion panels – “triangular talks” – were held last Monday 13 March at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni. Leading book editors from Germany, France and Britain met to discuss fiction, non fiction and what the future holds. Publishers, translators, agents and scouts packed out the library at the IFRU to hear them. Lucie Campos, Head of the French Book Office, chaired the discussions.
Continue reading What do book editors want? | A Triple Entente @ifru_london @LondonBookFair
“I am the son of a bastard who loved me. My father was a furniture dealer who collected and sold the property of deported Jews … I had to dismantle that great lie which passed for an education, word by word. Aged twenty eight, I experienced a first episode of delirium. Others followed. I was regularly interned in psychiatric hospitals … For years, I have been but the sum total of myriad questions. Today, I am sixty three years old. I am neither wise, nor cured. I am an artist. And I believe I can pass on what I have come to understand.”
A Life of Disquiet: Self-portrait of an Artist, a Son, a Madman is a powerful account of a dysfunctional father-son relationship marked by aggression and conflict, and its consequences. The book has received wall-to-wall press coverage in France, and has been a word-of-mouth success with over 40,000 copies sold to date.
Continue reading A Life of Disquiet by Gérard Garouste & Judith Perrignon | review published 2009 by 3:AM Magazine
The A to Z of Literary Translation by Georgia de Chamberet was posted on the Words without Borders blog in instalments from February to May 2008. It was circulated at the Masters Class in Translation Studies which Alane Mason (W.W. Norton) and Dedi Felman (Simon & Schuster) team taught in at Columbia University in the City of New York in 2008. Founded in 2003, Words without Borders is a superb site which promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.
I contributed to the @wwborders blog from 2005-2009. Whilst writing about English PEN’s Writers in Translation committee of which I was a founder member—tapping into my experiences as an editor, agent and publicist—the idea of doing a fun, but far from definitive listing, The A to Z of Literary Translation came to mind.
Artistry and adaptation are essential to the process of literary translation, since translation is an act of writing. Also accuracy and avoiding short cuts based on the when in doubt, cut it out approach. Writers make good translators—obvious examples being Baudelaire (translator of Edgar Allen Poe) and Robert Graves (translator of classical Latin and Greek authors and George Sand).
Beyond words into the mystery of language, and its cultural hinterland, is where a good translator will carry the reader on a journey of discovery. Good literature is primarily concerned with human beings, and is cosmopolitan, traveling beyond national identity and a book’s original social and cultural context—the same goes for a good translation.
Continue reading The A to Z of Literary Translation | first published 2008 by Words without Borders
Manuel D’Exil − comment réussir son exil en trente cinq leçons (A Survivor’s Guide to Exile in 35 Chapters) by Velibor Čolić
Both World War I and World War II originated in the Balkans. Central-Eastern Europe is a region that is terra incognita to most Brits. Prime Minister Chamberlain famously remarked about the Czechoslovak crisis in 1938: “How terrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” Dictator Marshal Tito held Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and others in a state of uneasy alliance until his death on 4 May, 1980. Ethnic tensions grew in Yugoslavia and war broke out in 1990.
The Balkans are once again the crucible of crisis – this time as the main refugee route to northern Europe. Thousands have become trapped in Greece after Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia closed their frontiers. Continue reading Found for Translation | Velibor Čolić
“Why this promotion leading up to the London Book Fair in April?” asked one publisher as she merrily jumped on to BookBlast’s celebratory bandwagon. Why indeed? Even the smallest publisher now has a website and a vital presence on social media, however visibility remains an issue.
SO MUCH is published! How can avid book readers, students on publishing courses, Media researchers and stumble-upon book browsers find the good stuff amidst the avalanche of words available online and piled high on bookshop tables? To separate the wheat from the chaff is becoming ever more essential. The need for well-informed curated recommendations is growing and growing . . .
When I first came into publishing in the late 1980s, commissioning editors held sway (as they still do at houses such as Gallimard across the Channel). They were respected for their knowledge and idiosyncratic flair in spotting potential new talent, much as a wine expert can identify a promising wine. Now it is the sales and marketing teams that hold sway in the ivory towers of corporate publishing. They follow trends, play with pie charts and algorithms, and pray daily at the hallowed altar of The Market. Of course there are still superb editors at the corporates − they are remarkably adept at surviving with steely determination in an environment which commodifies and monetises creativity remorselessly. It is a different mindset. Continue reading BookBlast celebrates independent publishing | Georgia de Chamberet on why independence matters
It is rare for a single book let alone a translation to generate widespread excitement across the publishing industry. Joel Dicker’s thriller, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, published in 2012 by 87-year-old veteran, Bernard de Fallois, became the most talked-about French novel of the decade. Christopher MacLehose, the publisher behind Stieg Larsson, made an offer a few weeks before the Frankfurt book fair − pre-empting a stampede of publishers bidding for the rights to translate the novel into 35 other languages. Novels by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard and Turkish Wunderkind, Orhan Pamuk − agented by Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie − are likely to be hot properties at this year’s Frankfurt book fair. And Scandi-Crime continues to be hugely popular.
Translators and their publishers are a bridge between worlds . . . between writers abroad and readers at home. Judging by the throng of professionals attending International Translation Day 2015 held at the British Library − the waiting list to get in was long and many were turned away – translation continues to be The Next Big Thing & Getting Bigger, as it rises in popularity and visibility. The insularity of certain mainstream sectors of the book trade come across as increasingly old-skool elitist like politicians quaffing Dom Perignon in the Westminster bar.
Continue reading International #translation Day 2015 @britishlibrary @FreeWordCentre @englishpen
“Since I came to Istanbul in 1951, I have always said I was of Kurdish origin and that I had been sentenced to jail for being a communist. Later on, in interviews, I continued to say the same thing. I was one of the first writers to claim his Kurdish heritage. In 1997, I was questioned on this matter in Germany. I confirmed I am a writer writing in the Turkish language. I have never written a line in Kurdish, but I am Kurd. In many of my books, the heroes carry Kurdish names or nicknames. I never repudiated my Kurdish identity, part of my family comes from the Caucasus; they are Turkmen who fought against the (Russian) Tsar and later came as refugees to Turkey, first to Bursa, then to Van, where one of my grandfathers married the daughter of a Kurdish bey. As if that were not enough, there is also some Assyrian blood in my family, but all of Anatolia is like that. My advantage is that although many people in Anatolia don’t know the Kurdish language, I know it and speak it. But I cannot read and write it. When the writer Mehmet Uzun read me his book written in Kurdish, I understood everything, but I could not have read it for myself.” [Extract from an interview with Kemal Sadik Gökçeli published in The Middle East magazine, 2002]
Kemal Sadik Gökçeli worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet from 1951-63 before turning to fiction. He wrote under a pseudonym: Yachar Kemal. As Turkey’s most prominent novelist, his books have been published in numerous languages, and he has been showered with international awards. In 1973 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature.
Continue reading Found for Translation | Yachar Kemal
As a lobbyist for translation, I occasionally write reader’s reports giving an opinion on French books that have been submitted to a publishing company for consideration. Translations of good non fiction are rare compared to fiction, and fewer grants are available. As its the indies who tend to take risks on new writers-new translations, they have less funds and back up than the majors. So good books often get nowhere — very much the case for Bilal sur la route des clandestins by Fabrizio Gatti which I was commissioned to report on back in 2011. A university press with an endowment could be a possibility? Hence this post . . . The book would need updating of course, easily done. For now it is available in Italian and French so if you can read those languages — buy it!
BILAL SUR LA ROUTE DES CLANDESTINS by Fabrizio Gatti (478pp Liana Levi 2008) Winner of the premio Terzani in 2008
Fabrizio Gatti is a reporter for the Italian weekly, L’Espresso. Human rights defender and campaigner against organised crime, he has undertaken numerous undercover investigations. Ryszard Kapuscinski believed that news is all about political struggle and the search for truth, not profits and ratings as is invariably the case today. Gatti is a kindred spirit. He follows in Kapuscinski’s footsteps with this humane and heartbreaking book. Bilal, on the road with illegal immigrants is literary reportage at its best; an odyssey into the heart of darkness. Gatti is not only an excellent and courageous investigative journalist, but a real writer.
Continue reading Found for Translation | BILAL: On the Road with Illegal Immigrants
Translations on the UK market
In a piece for The Swedish Book Review published in 1997, I stated that, “Roughly 3% of the titles published in the UK every year are translations (as opposed to 30-40% in France and Germany).” It is a puzzling paradox that Britain is such a multi-cultural society yet so insular when it comes to ‘foreign’ writers in translation. Especially since book-buyers just want a good story and are not particularly concerned about its provenance.
Dr Jasmine Donahaye’s 2012 survey Three percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland is unequivocal: “Literary translation in the UK and Ireland – whether assessed according to its broader definition or restricted to the genre categories of poetry, fiction and drama – is a little higher than the often-cited 3% figure. Indeed it is consistently greater than 4%, and, over the sample years, consistently increases.”
She gives the following statistics:
“The percentage of all publications that are translations: 2.21% in 2000 ; 2.65% in 2005 ; 2.43% in 2008.
“The percentage of poetry, fiction and drama that is translation: 4.37% in 2000 ; 4.51% in 2005 ; 4.59% in 2008.
“The percentage of all literary genres (the entire 800 Dewey range) that is translation: 4.17% in 2000 ; 4.20% in 2005 ; 4.37% in 2008.”
Continue reading Boom not Bust | A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK