The success of Hans Fallada in translation leads me to wonder whether English readers are at last beginning to appreciate writing from the wider world
A few years ago, I read a wonderful book which I thought few other people in the UK would take to, simply because it was in translation. I was so irritated by this notion that I wrote an article lamenting the failure of English-language readers (myself included) to accept books from other languages. The book was Hans Fallada’s Alone In Berlin. It went on to sell more than 250,000 copies. Which proves just how wrong I can be.
Anyway, a few days ago, I was reminded of this demonstration of journalistic acumen when Michael Hoffman’s new translation of Fallada’s A Small Circus thumped onto my doormat. Given from my previous failure, I’m not going to try to augur how this book will do, except to note that it’s equally interesting. (…)
One thing I am wondering, however, is if we in the English-speaking world are becoming better at understanding the value of good translated literature. In that earlier article, I noted that “although around 60% of all translations are taken from the English language, English readers take only around 2-3% of their books from other languages”. I haven’t been able to find contradictory figures, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the imbalance is becoming less marked. Stieg Larsson continues to sell by the bucketload; Roberto Bolaño is ever more revered; new imprints such as Gallic Books, focusing exclusively on translation, are thriving. In the meantime, the exemplary New York Review Books has brought out so many translations of such high quality that a serious reader could take in nothing else for years and still feel entirely satisfied. More.