The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

The world of translated fiction is truly a mind boggling one - there is so much wealth and variety, so much to explore and discover. And yet far fewer books are translated into English from other languages than, say, from English into German. It is a depressing state of affairs.

I think the first book translated into English that I read was Premchand's Godaan. I'm not entirely sure of this - I read it before my record-keeping began, and it might be that I didn't read it; I certainly recall my mum reading it, and it's possible that she told me the story, and somehow it now feels as though I read it myself.

But it's fairly safe to say that in my teens and well into my early twenties, the fraction of translated books read remained very small. I read some Russian books in the original; everything else was pretty much solidly English writing. The occasional exceptions were the works of Alexandre Dumas and Jules Verne, and The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi. There was also a burst of Georges Simenons.

The 1990s were a sad vista of untranslatedness. 39 translated books in 10 years! Terrible stuff. I read some Erich Maria Remarques and some early Nabokovs (by this time, my knowledge of Russian was atrophying rapidly). I also discovered Arturo Pérez-Reverte's historical fiction, which perked me up.

The 2000s were much better - 165 translated books. Most of these were consumed in 2008 and 2010 when I was trawling the world of translated crime fiction - some of you may recall my blog posts of the time. And I have gone through 130 translated books in the three years of this decade.

374 translated works out of 2439 books read since 1990 in total isn't such a tremendous fraction, though, is it? 15%. And the variety of source languages is not that great either:

French     German     Italian    Bengali   Russian    Spanish    
Greek      Norwegian  Dutch      Czech     Japanese   Arabic     
Croat      Portuguese Vietnamese Polish    Chinese    Swedish    
Malayalam  Hebrew     Icelandic  Danish    Albanian   Oriya     
Turkish    Magyar     Finnish    Afrikaans Tamil      Swedish    
Urdu       Persian    Dari

In fact, if you look at the numbers, there's a huge preponderance of the major European languages. This is probably a fair reflection of the relative fraction of languages translated into English.

I guess the plan for the next reading binge should be to address the less-represented languages. The Indian ones, for a start? In view of my current lack of patience with thick tomes, I should look for sub-200 page books in Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi… What about books from the northeastern states? A world of possibilities awaits. So please throw in your suggestions!


I can actually recognise the names of translators now. At one time I'd not have given them a second look, but I am getting a renewed appreciation for them. The great ones - at least, going by the books I've read - are Edith Grossman and Margaret Jull Costa (for Spanish and Portuguese), Andrew Bromfield (Russian), Anthea Bell and Carol Brown Janeway (German), Michael Henry Heim (for as many languages as you can shake a stick at, the man was a true wonder). Howard Curtis and Stephen Sartarelli are prolific in Italian translations, and other names such as Sonia Soto (Spanish) and Carlos Lopez (Spanish) also pop up increasingly. Danusia Stok (Polish), Ina Rilke (Dutch) and Denys Johnson-Davies (Arabic) also appear more than once in my list. They are all deserving of comprehensive Wikipedia pages, that's for sure.


??! said...

Now I want a post about why you started keeping records.

Between you and Space, you've filled up my recommended reading list for the year.

Feanor said...

Welcome back, Arkady or Kim. It's been yonks!

??! said...

It has indeed :) The little break turned into quite the hiatus - but I'm back!

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