Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reading in Translation

The world has shrunk in many ways in the past few decades. It is now easier and more affordable to travel to far-flung places. Unlike many of our ancestors who came to North America expecting to never return to their homelands or see family left behind, we can go back and discover our family's origins. Or we can travel somewhere completely foreign to our own cultural experience and learn about other cultures (or just stay at the resort and enjoy a laid-back vacation).
We can use Skype or Facetime to talk to people anywhere with an internet connection, going beyond the audio experience of the telephone to see who we are talking to and the environment around them.
Depending on where we live, we may have access to other cultural experiences within our own communities through attending festivals, parades, ethnic restaurants, or just talking to our neighbours.
But reading takes you into the experiences of another in a way that is difficult to do in other ways. You get inside the head of the characters, understand their thought processes and the emotions that they feel. There have been studies showing the increase in empathy and emotional intelligence that comes with reading fiction.
There are many writers who write in English and yet have different experiences and outlooks than ours that we can read and enlarge our worlds through that reading, whether they be from other English speaking nations such as New Zealand, or countries where English is a primary language like India, or an immigrant to one of those nations, or our own, who has taken on English as his language for writing.
But what about those that don't. How much do read that was published first in another language and then translated into English? It's a small percentage of what books are available to us, and many readers miss it altogether.
In 2007, the University of Rochester started Three Percent to help change that. The name reflects the fact that only about 3% of books published in the United States are works in translation. They share information on international literature including news, book releases, reviews, samples of works in translation, and those that haven't yet been translated. The university offers a program for translation wanna-bes, and a press for translated works, Open Letter. It is helping increase the availability of and awareness of translated works and we are seeing more interest.
A recent article on Flavorwire highlighted women writers in translation, recommending 22 women to read. As they say in the article only 30% of works in translation are by women, which for the US market comes out to around 1% of all published books.
I've been reading more and more translated books, which I've heard about thanks to sites like Three Percent and articles like the one in Flavorwire. And I'm glad of it, finding wonderful books in many genres that I both enjoyed and learned from. In 2014, I read 12 books in translation from eight different original languages, and I'm already at 8 books from 5 languages. My favorite so far this year is The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, translated from the French. What about you? Have you opened your reading to translated works? We'd love to hear about what great books you've enjoyed thanks to the work of translators.

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