Why you should be reading translated fiction

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Although sales of translated fiction in the UK are on the rise, it represented only 5% of all print fiction sales in 2015.  This poor figure only reminds us of the wealth of foreign ideas, stories and cultures we’re missing out on when we stick to reading solely English language literature. With Brexit and the fact that the UK lacks people who can speak a language other than English, it sometimes feels as if Britain is turning inward on itself and away from the rest of the world. We can ensure that we read widely by choosing books that have been translated from foreign languages. Here’s how this can make a difference.

Break the stereotype that foreign literature is intimidating

So many people avoid translated literature because they believe it’s elitist, philosophical, boring or over-complicated. This is the case for some books, but its also true of some British literature. By reading and talking about translated fiction, we can spread the  word that reading foreign literature is just as enjoyable as reading books that come from our own countries. There are some great stories out there, and feeling apprehensive shouldn’t stop us from discovering them.

Share in the narratives of people from different cultures
Reading translated literature allows us to broaden our cultural horizons, exposing us to songs, war, art, religions and history of different nations. It adds diversity to our reading and gives us access to stories we would never find in our own cultures.

Challenge your mind and educate yourself
Reading translated books is enriching for the mind and soul. Think of how many reading experiences we’d miss out on if we only read books by English speaking authors! We wouldn’t know War and Peace, Les Misérables or A Story of a Soul. There’d be no The Little Prince, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl or The Iliad. Not only this, but translated literature presents ideas in ways we’re not used to, using words, syntax and style in different ways than our mother-tongue does. If you’re a writer, reading it could even enhance your own writing.

Help promote recognition for translators
Books receive plenty of reviews, but when it comes to translated literature, translators are rarely mentioned. By reading and talking about translated books, we can help promote recognition for translators. If you speak two languages, read a book in its original language and then the translation, and compare. It will give you new found respect for the work translators do to bring literature to new audiences, and you can make sure other people know, too!

Help generate demand for translated fiction and appreciation of its authors, especially female. 

The task of translating, publishing and then promoting translated literature is expensive, and funding is poor. There are few prizes for this type of literature, and because authors of translated literature don’t always speak English, it can be difficult for them to promote their work in English speaking countries. By reading foreign literature, we make it more popular. Sales rise and the demand increases. This means more funding, more recognition, and more publication of literature from other countries. This can also help promote the author’s themselves, which is important, especially for female authors. Less than a third of all literary translations published in the UK and the US were originally written by women, and women writers win far fewer prizes for their translated books than male writers. Show your appreciation by getting involved with Women in Translation Month this August, by setting yourself the goal of reading two or more translated books written by women.

Let me know your favourite translated literary works and what you’re planning to read next!

Photo via Pixabay

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1 Comment

  1. Hey Stephanie, this is a great piece. I had to scan through my goodreads shelves to spot how many translated works I have read in the past few months…well, the results are nil. Ooops! Though I have cued up Life from Elsewhere-a short story collection that I am supposed to review. Suite Francaise is also on my shelf, years after watching and loving the 2015 adaptation. But in 2016, I loved So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba-dynamite

    Like

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