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Charlotte’s recent review

February 12, 2009
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of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about a couple of literature-in-translation items.

The (British) Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation was awarded last month to Sarah Ardizzone for Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle. Nicolette Jones wrote a great column about the importance of translated children’s books. (via)

While as many as 40 per cent of the books published in other European countries are books in translation, some 3 per cent of ours are. And the books shortlisted for the Marsh awards were a fine sampler of works with big themes that ask to be read globally. Not least among them was Valérie Zenatti’s Message in a Bottle (Bloomsbury), translated by Adriana Hunter, about the conflict between Israel and Gaza, from which Horowitz read an extract so timely it might have described an incident in this week’s news. The stumbling block for our publishing sans frontières, Horowitz rightly pointed out, was our attitude of mind. So what can be done, any more than the Marsh Award is already doing, to change it? We have to stop believing that, in literature, everything is lost in translation. Consider our culture without Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Aladdin, Pinocchio, The Ugly Duckling, The Tortoise and the Hare, Heidi, Pippi, Asterix, Tintin … Consider recent adult publishing without Perfume, The Name of the Rose, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, The Shadow of the Wind, Suite Francaise … These lists alone ought to persuade us that stories can and should travel and that translated stories can sell.

I’d seen the 3% figure before, but I thought it just applied to American publishing. I had been under the impression that the UK published more translated books than the US (after all, aren’t most of those Scandinavian mysteries I love so much published in the UK first?). Apparently not. What’s more, as John Crace notes (in an article that’s actually about Scandinavian crime fiction, but whatever, the point still stands; via), “And when you reckon that 3% includes academic and childrens books, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else.” When it comes to children’s books, there are some great publishers who put out a lot of picture books from foreign countries, but there’s not much YA. The only two publishers I can think of who put out YA lit in translation for teens on a consistent basis are Front Street and Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, for which both have my gratitude and admiration. (Of course, this lack of translated YA novels could also partly be because, in some countries, books for teens aren’t being written/published at all.)

I have compiled a rather incomplete booklist of YA books in translation here. Let me know if there are any glaring omissions and I’ll add them to the list. Think I should expand the scope of the list and add middle grade books? Have your say in the comments.

On the bright side, Viz is launching a new imprint, Haikasoru, “which will publish an array of contemporary Japanese science fiction (SF) and fantasy stories for English-speaking audiences,” including another novel by Miyuki Miyabe. (via)

Back in December, Betsy Bird interviewed John Mason, the president-elect (or is it president by now?) of the United States Board on Books for Young People, or USBBY, at A Fuse #8 Production. My membership form is in the mail.

Finally, something that may only interest me: when the Batchelder honor books were announced, I saw the name Don Bartlett (who translated Garmann’s Summer by Stian Hole) and thought, hey, why is that name familiar? A few minutes later, I realized it was because he’s the translator for Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast and Nemesis. And this bit in the John Crace article I linked to above made me laugh. “After dumping careers first as a journalist and then as a stockbroker, Nesbø now splits his time between singing lead vocals for Norwegian rock band Di Derre and writing thrillers featuring Harry Hole, a typical maverick anti-authoritarian cop. Most pundits reckon he should stick to the writing.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. bookworm4life permalink
    February 12, 2009 5:11 pm

    For your YA books in translation list: War of the Witches by Maite Carranza (Spain). One of my favorite books of last year though others seem to disagree with me. It’s the first in a trilogy, I believe, but I’m not sure if/when the others will be published in the US.

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