Bookmachine: Literature in Translation
Wednesday night was such an inspiring evening when Bookmachine explored the question ‘Has there ever been a more interesting – and important – time for fiction in translation?’ Sponsored by the Times Literary Supplement, the discussion was chaired by Toby Lichtig, Fiction and Politics Editor at the TLS and it centred around global literature and its place in the English-speaking world.
Both Elif Şafak, Turkish Author and Academic, and Sophie Hughes, Translator and Literary Critic, talked about the importance of literature in translation and explored themes around culture, education and diversity. Toby quite rightly stated, “In the end we're all interested in good books. Sounds banal but it's true…” and all three agreed that if it is good literature then it will sell. The importance is in the story, not the language and it is interesting to think about the difference in storytelling traditions. Publishers and judges must be aware of multiple storytelling traditions - with no hierarchy.
Sophie is a judge on the International Man Booker Prize and is in awe of the authors who create the work, but Elif was equally in awe of the translators who make work accessible to other audiences. It was fascinating to think about how some words and phrases cannot be translated directly and so the translator has to have so much creativity, dedication and faith. Languages changes us: "Which language are we freest in? Which best expresses our anger?" Elif believes that both author and translator should be recognised as a 50/50 partnership.
There is a reading appetite for translation fiction and, more than ever, literature in translation is selling and outselling literary fiction in English, but diversity is still an issue. If we focus on translated fiction and non-fiction this will help us fill and understand cultural gaps which is important in this political climate. However, Sophie did reiterate that she admires publishers who commission translated books from a place of artistic appreciation over politicisation.
Thank you Bookmachine for a thought-provoking evening and thank you to Toby Lichtig, Elif Şafak and Sophie Hughes.