Tuesday, 1 July 2008

T-Shirts and Translations

Journalists, eh? They're like policemen - they're getting younger and younger every day. Actually, I remember the first time I saw a baby-faced policeman who was obviously younger than me. It gave me a huge shock, I can tell you. Worse than the shock I got last night when the manuscript I was reading for a review stopped in the middle of a sentence. Pages missing! I hope they turn up at some point, because I really want to find out what happens at the end.

Where was I? Oh yes, journalists, eh? Even the young ones have something to say. Take Stuart Evers, for example. He may look like he's just left college (scroll down a bit) but he has a few good points to make on yesterday's Guardian books blog. His article is enticingly entitled Why we're less scared of "translated by", and it's about marketing the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.

Apparently, Harvill went the whole hog, sending out T-shirts, posters and "playful packaging" to win booksellers' hearts:

There's always been an audience for foreign fiction, a willing readership who want to discover the world through different voices. But the perception is that translated works are literary and difficult - fine if you like that sort of thing, a bit off-putting if not. Harvill, who specialise in precisely this kind of fiction, recognised that Murakami potentially had a wider appeal.

And it worked. Evers points out the subsequent success of crime fiction in translation, namechecking Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Anne Elliot, Boris Akunin and Fred Vargas. Plus, as he says, The Shadow of the Wind provided a paradigm shift - a bestselling translation!

He closes:

Excellent original novels, combined with publishers who believe in them and good translators, mean it's now as commercially viable to publish and promote novels in translation as it's ever been. Hopefully the days of waiting 18 years for your debut collection to appear in English are well and truly over, and fiction as superlative as Ogawa's won't be lost to English language readers anymore.

OK, he doesn't name a single translator, but then that isn't the focus of the article. What I've learned is that if publishers aggressively push translations to booksellers, they can be a success - more despite the fact that they're from other countries than because, but who cares. So what we need is Sasa Stanisic plastic wigs, Julia Franck mugs, Wetlands gonks. I know the publishers out there care a hell of a lot about the books they adopt from abroad - they just have to persuade us fickle readers to take one home with us.

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