Here are a few translation-related snippets from the book ‘Reading the World – Confessions of A Literary Explorer’ by Ann Morgan. The book was the logical next step for Ann after her 2012 blog in which she read her way around all the globe’s 196 independent countries plus one extra territory chosen by blog visitors, sampling one book from every nation.
Rather than a blow-by-blow description of each country’s book – material that is already in the blog – she covers the background to her quest (“I glanced up at my book shelves, the proud record of more than twenty years of reading, and found a host of British and North American greats staring down at me … I had barely touched a work by a foreign language author in years … The awful truth dawned. I was a literary xenophobe“) followed by themes: censorship, culture shock, representations of the west, etc, and a penultimate chapter on ‘Crossing the language barrier’, (although references to translation aren’t limited to that section):
page 77: “… according to English PEN, in British schools and universities there is no chance of gaining sufficient grapes of a foreign language to become a translator…”
page 77: “in the words of Josep Bargallo … ‘translation is the lifeblood which sustains and nurtures literatures’ …”
page 79: quoting Katherine Rucker “… books that are invisible to translators stay invisible to everyone else, too.”
page 248: “We are vulnerable when we read translations. We leave ourselves open to deception and betrayal.”
page 255: “… for all their linguistic skills, translators often struggle to articulate what they do and how others should go about it.”
Two-thirds of the books Ann read were translated, so translation played an important role in her project. She is probably one of the few people to have had a book translated especially for her after a group of linguists pitched in to translate a book from São Tomé and Principe. Closer to home it was shocking to learn that not a single Malagasy novel had been translated into English, despite the fact that Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has a population of 23 million.
Other difficulties Ann encountered included sourcing a book from South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, and realising partway through the year that the choice of 196 nations was itself somewhat arbitrary; maybe “the number of countries depends what world you come from”? (page 30).
For my reaction when I first discovered Ann’s blog, see the post: Books about Reunion and worldwide literature.
Reviews of Reading the World – Confessions of A Literary Explorer:
- The Guardian, 15th January 2015
- The Telegraph, 6th February 2015
- The Financial Times, 6th February 2015
- The Spectator, 28th February 2015 (review by Daniel Hahn)
- The Irish Examiner, 28th February 2015