While the most translated website and the most translated book in the world are both religious in their nature, the most translated author is, surprisingly, nothing to do with religion: it is mystery novel writer Agatha Christie.
Agatha Christie is beloved by all those with a taste for mystery novels. Her prolific literary contribution includes 66 detective novels, over 100 short stories and 17 plays, including the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and is the creator of characters such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She is also the author of the world’s best-selling mystery novel, And Then There Were None.
UNESCO and the Index Translationum
Translations have been taking place for thousands of years, but no record of them existed until the League of Nations created one in 1932. The Index Translationum, which was assigned to UNESCO in 1946 when the United Nations superseded the League of Nations, counts translations of individual books.
According to the Index Translationum, Agatha Christie has generated a staggering 7,233 translations, vastly outnumbering the second most translated author, Jules Verne. Her novels are known to have been translated into at least 103 languages, with around two billion copies having been sold worldwide since her first detective novel (The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the legendary Hercule Poirot) was published in 1920.
So why has Agatha Christie been translated more than any other author?
Agatha Christie has received a fair amount of criticism over the years. Mystery writer Ruth Rendell is quoted as quipping, “to say Christie’s characters are cardboard cutouts is an insult to cardboard.” Christie’s novels certainly reflect the age in which they were written, which spanned the 1920s through 70s. They are a far cry from the gritty detective novels written by contemporary authors. And yet Agatha Christie’s novels endure.
Misdirection and plotting are the cornerstones of Christie’s success, along with detectives who are easy to underestimate right through to each novel’s conclusion. Christie keeps the reader guessing throughout, creating mysteries where it is all but impossible to work out who the murderer is unless you have the keen eye and deductive skills of Jane Marple. Twists and turns keep you guessing until the very last chapter. Sometimes even the last page!
The value of literary translation
In an increasingly uncertain world and with so many divisions in our global society, literary translation is one way in which different countries and peoples can unite. The pleasure that can be shared through reading good novels is one that spans nationalities, borders, religions, genders and much more. Shared cultural experiences of this nature serve to bring together people who have never met by creating a bond between them. There are just over 7 billion people in the world and Agatha Christie has sold 2 billion novels. Even accounting for the near century that has passed since the writing of her first detective novel, that’s still an impressive proportion of the world that has read and enjoyed Christie’s books.
Have you read an Agatha Christie novel? Which language did you read it in and what did you think? Did it inspire you to read more or her works, or did you feel the writing was too dated compared with contemporary offerings? Share your thoughts via the comments.