The success of Scandinavian authors such as Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson is contributing to an unexpected boom in translated novels in Britain.
The success of Scandinavian authors such as Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson is contributing to an unexpected boom in translated novels in Britain. Translations are gradually becoming more mainstream as the rise in translated texts has risen almost 20 per cent in the last 20 years, but why are we falling in love with books from other countries?
Technology is breaking barriers
Blockbuster adaptations must certainly be a factor in improving sales. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Series – including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and their Swedish film adaptations proved popular around the world, even spawning a Hollywood attempt of the first installment.
With this in mind, people are generally becoming more culturally aware of other countries and their creative output through mediums such as film, art and literature. Through social media and the internet, film and literature festivals and online bookstores, foreign books are more readily accessible than ever before.
Culture is cool
Gone are the days when people need to master a foreign language to appreciate a book from overseas. Nowadays most books come with English translations and British people flock to them for a different cultural experience.
I’m currently reading a translation of Gabriel García Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale (I do speak Spanish but I got the English translation of the book as a gift!) and it’s a wonderful insight into the author’s early life in Latin America and his writing experiences.
Interestingly, following García Marquez’s death earlier this year, sales of One Hundred Years in Solitude rose dramatically – this must surely indicate that Britons are keen to read literary works in the international canon, albeit not in their mother tongue.
Another author is Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author whose texts are currently gaining in popularity in the UK and indeed around the world. Kafka on the Shore, South of the Border, West of the Sun and Norwegian Wood have become so increasingly appreciated and talked about that some British fans are obsessing over him more than the likes of home-grown writer, John Grisham.
Journalist Siobhan Norton confessed in a recent Independent article that she couldn’t wait to purchase his latest work, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, queuing up at midnight to get her hands on a copy. The book in question sold one million copies in its first week of release in Japan and is set to experience similar success internationally.
The invisible translator
One issue remains, however. Translators are never given enough recognition for their tireless effort to produce a translation loyal to the original.
As someone who has had some practice of literary translation through a university module, I appreciate how difficult it can be to portray an emotion, capture a moment or describe a character in the way the author intended – especially if they are no longer living and on-hand to answer queries.
The translator is often only recognised in the smallest of font sizes, or sometimes even omitted from the front cover altogether.
In an increasingly globalised world, it is hardly surprising that interest in translated texts is on the rise. We are lucky enough to have access to good-quality translations which can provide us with a literary passport to new worlds.
Image: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
What do you think? Which books have you read that are originally in a foreign language? Have your say in the comments section below.