Certain works of fiction have been transported around the world thanks to translation in order to become globally recognised parts of literary history. War and Peace, The Three Musketeers and Don Quixote are among some of the world’s most celebrated works of fiction, but as translations they are in the minority.
It is estimated (initially by Bowker) that just 3% of books published in the US are translations. With so many excellent novels published around the world each year, the figure is surprisingly low. But translated fiction is growing, slowly but surely, in popularity.
In the UK, a survey commissioned by the Man Booker International prize and conducted by Nielsen Book has found that contemporary literary authors are driving up demand for translated works of fiction. Authors such as Haruki Murakami and Elena Ferrante are behind the rise of literary fiction translation, which accounted for 5% of book sales in the UK in 2015.
The study examined book sales between 2001 and 2016, finding that translated fiction sales rose from 1.3 million to 2.5 million copies over the period. In the literary fiction genre, sales rose from 1 million in 2001 to 1.5 million in 2015, with translated works accounting for 7% of all sales of literary fiction, despite making up just 3.5% of the literary fiction titles that were published.
The translation of novels plays a key role in opening up other cultures to a country’s general readership. Individuals who might never have the opportunity to travel can be transported to a country through novels written by natives of that land. Customs, traditions, attitudes, prejudices and so much more are woven into works of literary fiction and it is only through the translation of such novels that these can be understood and appreciated by a readership around the world.
How often do you read translated works of fiction? Why do you feel they are important? Share your thoughts via the comments.