As I write in my latest feature for the Chronicle (UPDATE: the link is now free), translation is “having a moment, or a series of moments.” It was the presidential theme of the Modern Language Association’s most recent convention. Two university-affiliated publishing ventures, Dalkey Archive at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester, have been working overtime to get more translated literature into the hands of American readers.
One of Dalkey’s recent titles, Best European Fiction 2010, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, has gotten some nice mainstream attention. The WSJ wrote about the book, and the NYT interviewed Hemon on its Paper Cuts blog.
If you pay attention to what’s written about literature in translation, though, you’ll notice that the people doing the translating are rarely named. (Props to Michael Schaub at Bookslut, whose review of Best European Fiction 2010 made sure to mention the stories’ translators.) For my Chronicle story, I spent a lot of time talking to literary translators about what Lawrence Venuti has called the translator’s invisibility. This is a particular problem for translators working in the academic world, where, as Esther Allen put it, being a translator “actively works against you.”
In an attempt to broaden my horizons, I’m working my way through Best European Fiction 2010 now. So far it’s a little heavy on Kafkaesque influences for my taste, and I don’t know whether that truly reflects a lot of European writers’ leanings–I’m willing to believe that but nervous about jumping to continent-wide generalizations–or whether it’s a result of editorial taste. And maybe I’ll change my mind by the time I get to the end of the book. In any case, it’s fun to be taking “a whistle-stop tour of European fiction,” as Tibor Fischer called the book in his Financial Times review. (He calls it “an appealing and applause-worthy project” but complains that it has “a slight bureaucratic stiffness about it” and hopes that future volumes will show “less deference to territories and more to talent.”)
For more on how Americans deal with literature that isn’t home-grown, read Jessa Crispin’s astute take on the anthology, American insularity, and foreign influences at the Smart Set. To keep tabs on literature in translation and what’s happening on literary fronts outside the United States, bookmark the excellent Literary Saloon blog, run by Michael Orthofer (@MAOrthofer on Twitter). Another great source for news and thoughts on literature and translation is Three Percent, a blog run by Open Letter’s Chad Post.
Do you read literature in translation? Where do you go for good advice on what’s available? Do you think U.S. publishers should get more translations into the market?