The Linguist

The Linguist 55,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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8 The Linguist Vol/55 No/4 2016 FICTION IN TRANSLATION A s they enter Foyles bookshop in central London, browsers face a showcase of the flagship store's current bestsellers. In June this year, the number one position on the fiction list was occupied by a book – and a writer – that hardly anyone had heard of even a year before. Indeed, many of the readers whose enthusiasm pushed Han Kang's The Vegetarian (in Deborah Smith's translation) to the head of the charts would never previously have read a book from South Korea. In May, The Vegetarian became the deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize (MBIP) in its first year as an annual award for a single work of fiction in translation. Extensive media coverage, along with large-scale reprints by its UK publisher, Portobello Books, helped to give the author-translator duo weeks of the excited applause that had begun when they accepted the award. It's certainly rare for fiction imported from beyond the English language to sparkle in the limelight in this country. But not unique. Among five other titles that my fellow judges and I chose for the MBIP shortlist (out of 155 eligible submissions) was Elena Ferrante's The Lost Child in Ann Goldstein's translation. That book concludes Ferrante's 'Neapolitan Quartet' of novels, which have proved so seductive to readers the world over. Han Kang herself had already attracted keen interest and high praise for The Vegetarian, which cropped up at the close of 2015 in several critics' 'books of the year' selection. During 2015, novels by authors as varied in style and culture as Haruki Murakami and Michel Houellebecq, Jo Nesbø and Timur Vermes, all persistently troubled the compilers of bestseller lists. A mountain of work remains before chart-topping translations become so commonplace in the UK that they no longer count as a victory against the odds. Yet, even against a stormy background of faltering print sales and digital upheavals, literary translation has not only defended its corner but gained fresh tracts of ground. The Man Booker International Prize now gives £50,000 (equally divided) to the winning author and translator each spring, while the 'other' Man Booker offers the same sum to an Anglophone writer in the autumn. That parity serves as a symbol of recent progress and a taste – let's hope – of even better things to come. Improving the climate In 2001, with generous support from Arts Council England, I helped to re-found (and then, in each year, judge) the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Between 1990 and 1995, the award had run as a more limited in-house competition for the best translated book reviewed in the newspaper that year. The very first winner was Orhan Pamuk for The White House: so far as I know, the future Nobel laureate's earliest international honour. This year, Pamuk – and his translator Ekin Oklap – A new chapter © SHUTTERSTOCK The new Man Booker International Prize marks a change in attitudes towards translated literature and literary translators, says Boyd Tonkin MAKING PROGRESS Boyd Tonkin announces the winners of the Man Booker International Prize (top); and (above) the audience at the event

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