The rise of foreign literature

Global Trends, Languages2 October 20143k

One of the best things about being a polyglot is the amount of literature that you can get your hands on.

People who speak more than one language do not have to wait for a book to be translated into their native tongue before they can enjoy it. Instead, they can just read first editions. 

While the Bible is the most translated book in the world – it is available in over 2,800 languages – foreign literature is driving book sales in the UK as readers become captivated by authors such as Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson.

Indeed, a Cambridge academic has completed the arduous task of translating a set of Arabic short stories called Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange. This represents the first time in over 1,000 years that these texts will be available in English. 

Mainstream publisher Harvill Secker is set to publish literature from 18 countries this year, with its publishing editor Liz Foley telling the Guardian that translations are becoming "more mainstream". 

"There used to be a feeling translations were 'good for you' and not enjoyable … like vegetables … But actually they're wonderful books," she added. 

And it is not only in novels that foreign art is growing, as TV shows such as Borgen, The Killing and The Bridge are also becoming hugely popular with British audiences.  

According to Literature Across Frontiers, literary translations have grown by 18 per cent in the last 20 years. This highlights growth in this market segment and brings the issue of high-quality translations to the fore. 

Customers will not settle for second best and so publishing houses need to make sure they are working with experienced translators if they are to produce a novel that stays true to the original.

After all, readers will be put off if a passage makes no sense in their native language!


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