Lack of Translation in America Is “Shameful,” Says Lahiri

26 Feb

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Jhumpa Lahiri criticized the American literary world as “shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market.” The Indian American author said this on the panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival that I blogged about earlier, when I remarked on Xiaolu Guo’s sentiments that American literature is “overrated.”

I agree with Lahiri that our reading preferences in America are too inward focused. Ideally, we’d all be able to read in at least a second language, like Lahiri, who apparently hasn’t read anything in English in over two years. Good for her, but I’m a Greek school dropout. When I was in high school, I used to read Spanish decently, but I unfortunately haven’t kept it up and nowadays only read the Spanish advertisements in the subway station. Sometimes I tell myself one day I’ll go back to school to really study a language, but that day hasn’t come yet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important. It’s that I know my limitations, and as horrible as it is to admit this learning another language just isn’t a priority at the moment.

That pains me especially when it comes to contemporary Greek literature. I am quite curious about the literary trends in Greece right, particularly in how they treat the economic crisis. I’ve read some translations of contemporary Greek works, but the truth is they’re hard to come by.

Translation in general is, as Lahiri pointed out, not a priority for American readers. Maybe because for many, reading isn’t a priority. With the difficulties the publishing industry has faced, it feels sacrilegious to condemn them for not publishing more translations. I do want to applaud one publishing house I’ve been keeping my eye on for the past few years: Europa Editions. Here’s why:

Europa Editions was founded in 2005 by Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who are also the owner-publishers of Rome-based Edizioni E/O, one of Europe’s most prestigious independent publishing houses. Our idea was to capitalize on Edizioni E/O’s decades-long experience to bring fresh voices to the American market and provide quality English editions of international literature by enlisting some of the best translators in the business. Our appearance would be distinct, incorporating both European and U.S. jacket design standards, reflecting our conviction that books today must be pleasing to the senses as well as to the mind.  Our catalog  is eclectic, for we believe that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten.

Also, can I make a bit of a suggestion for those interested in translation? If there’s a note from the publisher or translator, read it! It’s fascinating and eye opening to read about the decisions the translator grappled with when bringing a foreign-language work to an American audience.

What contemporary Greek authors should I be reading right now? Where’s a good place to find Greek works translated into English?

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4 Responses to “Lack of Translation in America Is “Shameful,” Says Lahiri”

  1. skjam2013 February 26, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Mind you, translation from the Japanese is thriving, when back in the 1980s you couldn’t find more than two, three books a year in translation. The Scandinavian languages are also doing pretty well in the mystery-thriller category. Other languages just need that breakthrough fad.

    “Serious” literature is a hard sell at any time, regardless of language.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos February 26, 2014 at 10:08 am #

      Excellent point. Swedish translations of crime/mystery/thrillers have done grown tremendously the past few years. I think the popularization of manga has helped grow the Japanese translations. Are there any authors in particular you would recommend in translation?

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