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“Found in Translation”

Another thoughtful article in the New York Times about translated literature. The writer abandoned Chinese for Portuguese when his professor said it’d be 10 years before he’d be able to decipher a newspaper. When he started reading short Brazilian works, he stumbled upon Clarice Lispector, a writer so sensational that she was a household name in Brazil, but nobody knew of her outside of her country.

The very book in question is The Hour of the Star, a novella published in 1977. I. too, only stumbled upon Lispector’s works when browsing at an indie, The Book Soup in Los Angeles to be exact. While the heroine is a typist who lives in the slum of Rio, Lispector herself is the book’s most forceful presence. Reading the little book makes me want to know everything about her. Her books remained virtually untranslated until 1997. Lipsector faces the same obstacle all foreign writers do: they are not being read as there are so many English language readers.

In the United States and Britain, translations represent just 3% of the book market, in China 7% and in Russia 10%. I’m not surprised the book vendors who actually carry the most translated literature are the local indies, of which the staff are engaging in literary activism for the authors and works to be found by English-speaking readers.

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