PEN America was recently in the news for launching its first-ever Kickstarter campaign, looking to raise funds to support a series of books that includes 16 books from Africa, translated from Swahilli, French and Portuguese. They have a focus on LGBT literature. But what I found interesting about this story was that it highlighted issues relating to translations.
PEN claims only 3% of books published in the United States are works that were translated from other languages. The United States only accounts for less than 5% of the world population yet 97% of its books are English originals. You would think our melting-pot nation would entertain more translated works so that it can be exposed to stories from all over the world.
PEN also says that just nine languages account for 90% of the world’s translations, with the majority being translated from English. This means that we heavily impact the cultures of other lands, as they import our books and adopt our story lines.
I wonder what we are missing when we don’t hear what other countries have to say or offer. I also wonder how America influences the people of other nations. Are they reading the best of what we have to offer – or are they loading up on cheap romance novels?
Maybe some stories are just universal in nature, regardless of what language they originate from. Sci-fi thrillers or crime dramas may not vary from nation to nation, but subtle differences in style, culture, and language are present when comparing the writings of an author in rural China vs. New York City vs. the Caribbean Islands.
I don’t really know what we’re missing because there is a void right now. Until we’re exposed to more foreign-originated books, we won’t know what we could’ve been reading and thinking about. It’s a Catch-22 situation.
But the world, thanks to the Internet, modern travel and mass media, is shrinking. Geographic boundaries mean less and less. Still, the world of 7.35 billion people has many cultural variations and rich histories that await our discovery via books.
What would be interesting to see is not how different people or places are around the world, but rather, how similar things are. Human nature, for better or worse, repeats itself throughout the world. Our books must surely reflect this – and soon we will get to find out.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016
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