The rise of translated fiction

Kirby Fenwick  

The word translation comes from the Latin translatio which itself is the result of the merging of two words: trans/across and ferre/to carry or to bring. Translatio, then, can be understood to mean a carrying across or a bringing across. Which, when you consider translated writing, is quite poetic. For those of us without the ability to read another language, translation provides an opportunity to explore stories and worlds and experiences that we might not otherwise see. It’s a kind of magic, really.

In a piece for The Conversation last year, Alice Whitmore (who will chair Lunchtime Lit: The Art of Translation) wrote that translations were ‘experiencing something of a moment’.

Alice cited the 2018 Stella prize shortlisting of Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, translated from Farsi by Adrien Kijek, alongside the work of independent Australian publishers like Brow Books, Scribe, Giramondo and Text.

Brow Books, who has a co-publishing agreement with Tilted Axis Press, a UK publisher who publishes books that ‘might not otherwise make it into English’, has recently published Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale and Intan Paramaditha’s Apple and Knife. Both received rave reviews. In 2017, Giramondo published All My Goodbyes, by Argentinian writer Mariana Dimópulos (translated by Alice Whitmore), the first book published in the company’s Southern Latitudes series, which focuses on ‘innovative fiction and nonfiction by writers of the southern hemisphere’. Three of the five books published in the series so far are translations.

And earlier this year, Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, translated by Omid Tofighian, won the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Nonfiction.

Translation, of course, is not a new phenomenon. If you’re read The Little Prince, Pinocchio or The Emperor’s New Clothes in English, you’ve read a translation. But if you’re ready to move beyond the traditional fairytale, here are a few good books to start with.

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith
Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, translated by Omid Tofighian
Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale, translated by Janet Hong
Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks, translated by Christina MacSweeney

You can hear from Omid Tofighian at Work in Progress: Telling Other People’s Stories at 6pm Wednesday 26 June at
The Wheeler Centre.