Posts featuring Jonathan Ruppin

Looking Ahead to International Translation Day in London, with Jonathan Ruppin

Brexit has brought our relationships with other nations to the forefront of public debate, so some readers might seek to broaden their horizons.

Ahead of Asymptote’s celebration of world literature in the UK on September 29th at Waterstones Piccadilly, the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club—and our event’s chairman—reflects on the last year of reading and publishing literature in translation. Get all of the event details, RSVP to attend, and invite your friends here

Megan Bradshaw (MB): The title of a recent article from The New Statesman asks, “Translated fiction is not a genre. Why do bookshops tell us it is?” Would you say that giving translated fiction its own category—and a separate Man Booker prize—is counterproductive?

Jonathan Ruppin (JR): I don’t think this is true: it’s almost never shelved separately. But it’s certainly worth pulling out in regular promotions, because this boosts visibility and sales, and there are many readers who are drawn to translated fiction for the broader horizons it offers. The new Booker Prize is doing a wonderful job highlighting the importance and relevance of the novel as a global art form, something that matters a great deal given the safe and parochial nature of what is usually promoted in reviews and in shops.

MB: Last March, the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club tackled Pushkin Press’s reissue of a short story collection by the Russian writer Teffi: Subtly Worded. Many native Russian speakers forewarn that her signature wit will get lost in translation. How did the Book Club receive her?

JR: The book was definitely one of the best-received selections in our first year or so of existence, although everyone seemed to prefer a slightly different selection of the stories. But, more than any other book, we were aware that her intricate use of wordplay had to mean that a lot was lost in translation. But she’s still an extremely rewarding writer to read in English.

MB: A survey commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize found that translated fiction is outselling its English-language counterparts. The same survey also noted that UK sales of Korean books has increased, from 88 copies in 2001, to 10,191 in 2015—many of those sales were for Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, from Portobello. Is the rise of Korean literature here to stay?

JR: That depends almost entirely on whether publishers commit to it. Independent publishers are forging ahead with titles from outside Western Europe, but the bigger companies still rarely do so. And any greater interest in Korean books will come with greater exposure for translated literature overall, or perhaps Asian literature.


Asymptote Celebrates International Translation Day in London

On September 29, join Asymptote in London for a special celebration of world literature.

Book lovers wary of what Brexit will mean for the arts and culture in the United Kingdom can take some small comfort: British readers are going international.

This year, a survey commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize found that literary fiction in translation is outselling its English-language counterparts. Right now, translation seems more important than ever—suddenly, it seems, world literature has taken root in this island nation, where fiction sales are stagnating overall. How did this happen? Is the movement permanent? Mindful of this year’s celebration of Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), the release of the first Kurdish novel translated into English, and the globalization of Korean literature, how are publishers continuing to surface underrepresented voices?