“Literary Translation and Culture”

2 events on translation are forthcoming – one local, one European – an I have the privilege to participate:

(a) “Literary Translation and Culture” is a one day conference, initiated and hosted by Manuel Baroso, the President of the European Commission, on April 20, 2009, in Brussels.

The early alert reads: “In the context of its policies to promote multilingualism and intercultural dialogue, the European Commission is organizing a Conference on the role of literary translation in Brussels on the 20th of April 2009.”

I will have an opportunity to do a brief introduction to the “Diversity Report 2008” and act as a rapporteur.

(b) A report on translations done and published by Austrian publishers, sponsored by the city of Vienna, is about to get finished and will be presented on April 16, 2009, 7 pm, at the Haupverband des österreichischen Buchhandels, Grünangergasse 4, 1010 Wien. Details and participants to follow.

Anticipating the global success of “Män som hatar kvinnor” – of what?

According to our charts, he was probably the most stunning author across Europe in 2008, and now his book makes it to the movies: “Män som hatar kvinnor“. You don’t recognize the smash hit?

This weekend, Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo”, volume one of his Millennium series, is opening – in Sweden and Denmark.

This is all about the really counter-intuitive story of a feverish Swedish investigative journalist who, to make some money for his retirement, writes a series of 3 crime novels, but does so in a way that normally guarantees it that the book is not a success. The author dies only a week after bringing the manuscript to his publisher who, of course, recognizes the jewel he got and publishes the book. The rest is probably the most iconic legend about writing and publishing in these days.

Introducing “The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize” Long list, Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of The Independent likens Larsson together with Chilean Roberto Bolano’s “2666” (currently #14 in the UK charts) as the perfect examples for novels which, under conventional wisdom, should never ever make it into any bestseller charts, as both books are “very long, complicated, sometimes eccentric and driven by a quixotic idealism”, have a dead author and are translations- and yet.

The really amazing thing about the Larsson movie however is that after such a unique performance, it has not been turned into some Hollywood blockbuster with a cast of international stars. Instead it is a Danish production, directed by Berlin festival winner of 2006, Niels Arden Oplev.

Livres Hebdo reports that the movie may open the French movie festival in Cannes in May 2009, and that so far, volume 2 and 3 of the Millennium series are set to hit only TV and DVD screens, not the cinema. So far, TV rights for France have not been sold, but Canal+ seems to be closest.

Which just teaches a good lesson about culture and arts being much more complex as popular myths of “global homogenization” have it.

Salzburg Seminar on translation: From oral to written back to oral again?

It was Geety Dharmaraja of New Dehli, a beaming lady with an inescapable sense of mission and the founder of a stunning Indian translation project called Katha who made several of the most remarkable points at this week’s Salzburg Global Seminar on translation.

“Perhaps we are about to go full cycle”, she told the startled: “We started with oral traditions, moved on to written literature, and now get into oral story telling again!” And, wrapping it all up, she would proclaim upfront: “Gutenberg must not have to live!” Meaning something like who can be sure that the printed book on paper is once and for all the solution to our reading (and story telling) requirements.

Salzburg Schloss Leopoldskron

Salzburg Schloss Leopoldskron

We were sitting in the prestigious Schloss Leopoldskron (where theater director Max Reinhard had an apartment during the fesitval in the 1920s), with lots of snow outside, and ever more falling from a grayish sky, some 60 or so translators from 4 continents and experts in literature and translation.

Presentations and discussions were going in various directions: About the status of translating literature (and the poor working conditions for many translators), about models to foster translations, and yes, about funding and how to better organize funding. There was a wide spread consensus that much translation of main stream fiction can hardly be done and only find a publisher, certainly in the English speaking world, if the cost of translation is somehow dunded by a grant. So translation is very much a not for profit activity – with Harry Potter and the like being an exception.

I had the pleasure to give a presentation on our “Diversity Report 2008“, maping languages that, aside from English of course, are strong in translations, and others that struggle on the margins.

Salzburg Schloss Leopoldskron Library

Translators, as we all know, are a community of highly focused folks, busy with their craft. But in all our conversations, sometimes more openly, and sometimes only between the lines, the digital change ahead was the big question in the room: Can we still, for a while at least, do things as if nothing happened? And for how long? Or is change already here? And it was funny to realize how often someone acknoweledged that new things and new habits had already become part of the daily habits.

China to losen state control over publishing by 2010?

The Chinese internet platform Danwei reports, quoting an article in China Youth Daily, that the Chinese government is set to abandon direct control over most publishing companies by the end of 2010.

The goal is to allow “for profit” media companies to get rid of direct state control, to end state restrictions on the allocation of ISBN, and to encourage the forming of “six or seven internationally-recognized press and media companies that are domestic leaders with assets and sales each over 10 billion yuan.” (Original quote in Chinese)

After experimenting already with IPOs of state controled publishing groups since 2008, and with more or less independent “creative agencies” acting as defacto publishing companies, or at least, as – partly very successful – imprints, this next move could be decisive in pushing China’s publishing industry internationally from being only a big buyer of copyrights into a real player in the global cultural industries.

See also our privious posts here and here and here

Global bestseller list 2008 featured in German buchreport

Our Global bestseller list has been featured in the week’s buchreport.express, and buchreport online – Germany’s leading source of book market information.

The list which has been established for the first time ever, based on bestseller information from across Europe, the USA, and China, has had braod media attention, including The Bookseller, The Guardian and Associated Press.

China update: Trends, topics, new titles

While it is frightening to see in this very moment how the new Mandarin hotel next to Rem Kohlhas’ CCTV tower is burning, I was checking all kinds of sources on news with regard to China’s publishing landscape.

Friends told me that the crisis so far did not have any knock out impact on the industry, but at the same time, I hear a lot of lines about “restructuring” – or reconsidering all to bold and expansive strategies in publishing companies.

We learn for instance that Liaoning Press which was the first publishing company allowed to go public at the Shanghai Stock exchange in 2008 has been re-branded as North United Publishing and Media (Group) Co., Ltd. More significantly, most of the major Shanghai based publishing groups have been encouraged to become more of  ‘companies’ instead of state run cultural agents, and yet another publisher – Reader Publishing Group in Gansu Province –  is also preparing to go public.

The annual Beijing domestic book fair held in January says in releases that business concluded with 2.5 bn RMB worth of deals (ca. 200 m up as compared to 2008).

Also, translations which had shown tremendous growth to an estimated 10,000 titles sold into China for translation per year, seem to remain solid. In a workshop sponsored by the British Council, it was announced that China will be the guest of honor at the London Book fair in 2012 (after being in that role in Frankfurt later this year).

Forcasts e.g. in China Daily have it that books about macro economics as well as the now exactly 30 years of China’s opening may be among the top issues in the year’s new releases.

In fact in  the top bestseller segment, the controversial “Currency Wars” (货币战争) by Song Hongbing  is back as #1 in non fiction. And 30 years of the special economic zone in Shenzhen have been turned into a novel called “Destiny” (命运 ) by Lu Tianming.


Much more interestingly in terms of international reach is the clear trend that more and more regularly, books from Chinese authors are given prominent recognition abroad. In a piece in the New Yorker, the broadening reciprocal exchange of books and ideas via translations in both direction has been recently discussed – and compared to the lack of such an exchange with the Arab world.

Pankaj Mishra reviewed the English translation of the in its Chinese edition hugely successful novel “Brothers” by Yu Hua  in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. But also the very dark The Vagrants: A Novel, a captivating new book on the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, by short story writer Li Liyun, got instantly attention and appraisal in the Times as the English translation was released by Random House.

In the most recent Chinese bestseller lists provided by China Publishing Today, a new novel, long listed at last year’s Man AsiaLiterary Award, Murong Xuecun, hit the charts, “Dance the Red Dust” (原谅我红尘颠倒), while his earlier book “Leave Me Alone, Chengdu” was given a German translation at Zweitausendeins.

So one can be cautiously optimistic that the flow of books and ideas between China and us starts to broaden from the odd trickle that it once was into a quite robust – and exciting – stream.

The next step ahead however would need to involve more sophisticated and also two sided working relationships between publishers and editors from the West with their counterparts in Chinese publishing houses – which used to be for so long just this: state controlled government agencies.

Ripping off the cover: Has digitization changed what’s really in the book?

The wonderful journal “Logos” has published a tink piece I wrote on the “future of the book” or, more precisely, on what e-Books and digitization may have changed – or not changed at all – about books:

What is a book? And, what’s really in it? These
two simple questions are getting both more
complicated and more interesting as books are
moving from their incarnation as “laminated wood
pulp” — as some digerati nerds mock the ink-onpaper
versions of traditional knowledge containers
— to other, mostly digital media.
With a multitude of new manifestations of
the book, initiatives on the book, book-related
gadgets and uses, and with 2008 as a likely
watershed year for the future of electronic books
(e-books), it seems only appropriate to revisit
these two primal questions in a more systematic
and serious way.
Admittedly, this article is more a loose set of
initial observations, thoughts and notes than a
thoroughly researched essay — at best a think
piece, trying to identify and pick up a number of
the loose ends of the current and often emotional
debate on e-books. I try to identify some aspects of
what may change — or has changed already — as
books go digital; what on the contrary will not be
so different, after all, in the digital future; what is
at stake; and, somewhat as a postscript, why ebooks
so far have not been at all successful in
competing with the traditional book.

You find more here

Back from Cairo International Book Fair – A true adventure in books

If book fairs are supposed to be still some kind of frontier, Cairo is the place to go. It is arguably the largest book fair on the planet, both in space (a huge area, with halls, shacks, walks and lawns (for pick nick), and a lot of surprise.

The Cairo book fair - a place for many and many purposes

Yet despite its 1.5 million visitors in 2 weeks – who come to shop for books, as hardly any normal bookshops exist outside Cairo, and no reliable distribution, the variety is very limited to religion, children’s educational materials, romance and a few sprinkled other books.

Cairo - book stalls

Cairo - book stall

The Cairo book fair – a place for many and for many purposes

You see large crowds, people of all strands of life, many children, religious people and laymen, ready for a discovery.

(Find an entire album of pictures from the Cairo book fair at Flickr.)

However, doing the facts on the Arab book market is sobering. Looking out for relevant data about Arab book publishing, I got introduced to Salah B. Chebaro from Beirut, Lebanon, who runs Neel Wa Furat, probably the largest online book store in the Arab world. I asked him how many titles he has on his online catalogue, and the answer is ca. 8.000. He estimates that between Lebanon and Egypt, the two main book producing countries of the region, plus Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, some 15.000 titles are currently available. The Maghreb states may add another 5.000.

New titles on display

New titles on display

So altogether, this equals roughly the output of Poland, yet Poland’s population of 38 million needs to be set into perspective to an Arab population of 200 million. The Arab Human Development Report of 2003 estimated the Arab book production at not exceeding 1.1 percent of world production.

However there is growing international interest in the Arab world’s publishing. This year, the United Kindom, helped by the British Council, is the guest of honour and brings a lot of expertise and support. In the Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, ambitious new foundations have been set up to give a strong push and develop reading culture, translation and diversity. a few big players from Western publishing have set up shop recently in Dubai, notably Random House, Harper Collins and Bloomesbury.

And in just a few months, we will hold a “Global Market Forum: The Arab World” at BookExpo America (28 – 31 May, 2009, in New York).

Omar Moussa, General Secretary of the Arab League, with Anna Swank of ArteEast, Nasser Jarrous and myself

Amre Moussa, General Secretary of the Arab League, with Anna Swank of ArteEast, Nasser Jarrous and myself

It will be inaugurated by the General Secretary of the Arab League, Amre Moussa who received us kindly.

It will be a very special event to present writers, translators, publishers and experts to explore Arab culture in New York.

With more details, both on the Arab book market – with data and ressources – and about our program at BEA to come here soon.

Publishers Weekly fires 4, including editor-in-chief Sara Nelson

Publishers Weekly (PW), once acclaimed as “the Bible” on US publishing, fires 4 members of its staff, including editor-in-chief Sara Nelson.

PW is owned by Reed Business Information, the professional magazine division of Reed Elsevier which was for sale throughout most of 2008 and, finding obviously no buyer, was subject to restructuring plans even before the current financial downturn had hit.

Sara Nelson, formerly a highly acclaimed reporter for the early days media start up insight.com, had been hired by PW in 2005 to renew the magazine. She made her reputation at PW quickly as an outspoken  voice on the industry and thereby helped to sharpen the profile of the old lady that PW has been for a long time.

The magazine’s move obviously triggers many questions on the publication’s strategy ahead.

Proudly presenting: The global (and European) bestselling authors of 2008

Working on bestselling books and author, we did a first ever ranking of the bestselling authors 2008 in Europe and globally. Here is our gobal top 20 fiction list:

1 Khaled Hosseini

2 Stieg Larsson

3 Ken Follett

4 Stephenie Meyer

5 Muriel Barbery

6 Carlos Ruiz Zafón

7 Anna Gavalda

8 John Grisham

9 JK Rowling

10 Henning Mankell

11 Alan Bennett

12 Jodi Picoult

13 Christopher Paolini

14 David Baldacci

15 Nicholas Sparks

16 Elizabeth George

17 Lauren Weisberger

18 Michael Connelly

19 Patricia D Cornwell

20 Paulo Coelho

The Bookseller broke the story, and the Guardian picked it up here.

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get notified about new reports, blogposts and events