This year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize is “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang. One of the many notable things about it is its translation, as explained on the MBIP press release: “The novel was translated by 28-year-old Smith, who only started learning Korean at the age of 21. Having learned no foreign languages until this age, Smith decided to become an English-Korean translator upon completing her undergraduate degree and moved to Korea to achieve this.” Now that’s dedication! At the same time, the MBIP committee announced that it had commissioned some research into sales of translated fiction in the UK, and I think I’ve missed a trick here. According to the research, sales of translated fiction books have grown by 96% since 2001 against a market which is falling overall – and translated literary fiction makes up only 3.5% of the literary fiction titles published in the UK, but 7% of the volume of sales. In other words, translated literary fiction sells twice as many copies in the UK as fiction written originally in English.
Now, I have laboured for many years with an unusual surname, which few people can spell, even fewer can pronounce, and most assume is Italian. So perhaps I should go with the flow, call myself Susanna Grossi, and (here’s the clever bit) pretend that my Sam Plank novels were originally written in Italian but have been translated into English. After all, the Inspector Montalbano and Inspector De Vincenzi novels – all originally written in Italian – sell like hot cannolis in English translation, and the former have been made into a sumptuous telly series. Perfetto!
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