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Today in International Lit

By David Varno

The Nobel Prize

With the announcement of Herta Müller as Nobel Prize winner for literature comes the continued sense that the Nobel committee is challenging the English-speaking world to be more aware of what is happening in Europe. Friday's Guardian piece responded positively, while Lev Grossman, in Time magazine, expressed doubt that the award will bring Müller more readers. Aside from all this, what about the handful of novels that are already available to English readers, and the translators who have brought them to us?

Esther Allen, co-director of PEN World Voices, wrote this letter to the New York Times:


There is a problem with the coverage of Herta Müller's Nobel in today's Times.


The Times articles consistently mention the fact that Müller writes in German, and even bemoan the problem of the paucity of literary translation published in English. But never once is any of Müller's translators named or alluded to, not even when those translators' words are excerpted extensively.

In last year's coverage of LeClezio's Nobel, translators were credited; their omission this year becomes all the more inexplicable.

Herta Müller is not really so obscure -- she's one of the lucky ones, with at least four books published in English. That has happened because a number of literary translators have championed her work and brought it to an English-speaking public. Their names are Michael Hofmann, Martin Chalmers, Philip Boehm, Michael Hulse, Valetina Glajar and André Lefevere.

These are not clerks or copyists -- these are dedicated, skilled performers whose insight and erudition make it possible for literature to move from one cultural medium into another. They should not be condemned to operate in total obscurity, especially not at a moment like this one.

Müller herself, like Imre Kertesz and a number of Nobel winners in previous years, has been a translator -- her writing involves movements between cultures and languages. Translation is integral to this story, not an incidental inconvenience or annoyance to be suppressed or overlooked.

As a daily reader and supporter of the New York Times, I would hope that in the Times's ongoing coverage, translation and the work of translators can be given their rightful place in this story.


We at Words Without Borders are happy that Allen shared this letter with us, and hope that with Müller's victory we will see more cross-cultural dialogue between Europe and the U.S., and also more recognition for the work of translators!




China at the Frankfurt Book Fair

This year, China is the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Global Times has an article with a detailed outline of the Chinese exhibition hall, which strives to present historical and contemporary Chinese culture to the western world. Already there has been at least one disturbance, sparked by authors Dai Qing and Bei Ling at a PEN panel, which caused several Chinese delegation members to walk out. Also among the authors are experimental poets such as Yang Lian, whose biography is available on WWB.




Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival took place this past weekend in Bali, and seems to have been quite a festive event. Here is a blog dedicated to the festival, called Literally Ubud, and a round-up on the Jakarta Post. Participants included Seno Gumira Ajidarma, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Published Oct 13, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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