25 January 2009


I've been writing a lot this past year or so about translation, and in particular about the rather paltry amount of fiction that's published in the UK and US in translation. The arguments are in part due to finances - publishers say it's too expensive if they have to pay for the translator's work, as well as the rights in the original book (which is perhaps partly true, but there are lots of sources of funding for this...); the other explanation is that people (whoever these 'people' are) just don't like to buy books in translation. They are scared, or intimidated, or suspicious, or something like that.

The world of children's books in particular should know better. When I was a child I read Andersen and Grimm, I read Asterix and Tintin, I read The Swiss Family Robinson, Aesop's Fables, Astrid Lindgren. I enjoyed the Nicolas books, I loved Emil and the Detectives. None of these did me any lasting damage for having read them in English translation. I was somehow unscathed by the rigours of the Moomins too. And I'd have been pretty sorry to have missed The Diary of Anne Frank.

I wasn't scared of these books, I wasn't intimidated by them, nor did I think they were in any way peculiar for being translated. (Did I even know they were translated?) People all over the non-Anglophone world manage somehow to struggle through Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice in Wonderland; Harry Potter isn't finding it hard to shift outside the UK and US either, for that matter.

So why do we think this should be a problem for readers (young or adult) here today?

(Do you know anyone who's started reading a Cornelia Funke book and not loved it simply because it wasn't originally written in English?)

There is, I'm pleased to say, an award for the best children's book in translation - the Marsh Award - and it was announced this week. The winner was Sarah Ardizzone for her translation of Timothée de Fombelle's Toby Alone (about which I've posted in the past, and which I've recommended most enthusiastically in the new UBG) - a very worthy winner, among what I must admit is a hearteningly rich shortlist.

It seems daft to have to say this, but there is obviously,
obviously, some wonderful writing happening in other languages that we don't get to see (and often how much better than certain things in our own language that we do...); the book world in the UK is impoverished as a result, and so are we all.

PS One new initiative to combat this sorry state of affairs is Outside In (linked to the book of the same name) which I heartily recommend - have a look here.


Leonie said...

I'm not sure most kids even notice there's an author, let alone a translator!

Library Mice said...

I agree with Leonie!
We are seeing more French literature now here I think: Toby Alone, Winter Song, Valerie Zenatti's books. It is not much, but there is so much published here already, I am not sure there is space for translated texts as well. Unfortunately there most certainly isn't on my tiny school library shelves :0(

Leonie said...

Oh, space is my problem too - I so hear you! (as the boys would say!)