My last article focused on works in translation, and also coincided with an excited email from a contact at the Dutch Foundation for Literature. This highlighted a deal involving UK-based publishing house (and IPR License member) Pushkin Press and the translation of one of the greatest post-war Dutch novels, De Avonden (or The Evenings, originally published in 1947) into English. 

Recently voted one of the greatest novels of all time by Dutch readers, The Evenings, written by Gerard Reve, will be translated by the prize-winning Sam Garrett, one of the preeminent translators from Dutch, who is said to have a long-held desire to bring this brilliant modern classic to English.

This is really big news in the Netherlands, even in the mainstream press, but has yet to make anywhere close to the same amount of noise in English language markets. Of course there is a large number of books written in foreign languages that, while fully deserving, have yet to be translated into English. However, for such a highly regarded title as De Avonden, the question that immediately sprang to mind was, "Why did this translation take so long?"

Victor Schiferli, advisor at the Dutch Foundation and a former editor at De Bezige Bij, the publisher of De Avonden, suggested that when this book appeared for the first time, literature in translation was not like it is is today. Which is to say that, although the book has always been a classic and has never gone out of print, many books in translation have had little commercial success. He added that the U.K. has long been a difficult market for books in translation. On a much more positive note though, he pointed out that there now appears to be a growing interest in the classics.

Posing the same question to Adam Freudenheim, publisher and managing director at Pushkin Press, he said that one of the reasons it has taken so long for The Evenings to make it into English is that it's a work which is considered a difficult one to translate, because Reve is a heavy stylist. But perhaps more fundamentally, as Freudenheim explained, there are a number of wonderful novels from around the world that have not been translated into English because, as a group, we aren't as outward looking, at least linguistically, as many other cultures.

But, like Schiferli, Freudenheim also believes there is a growing appetite in English for rediscovered classics from other languages, such as Suite Francaise or Alone in Berlin (which he published at Penguin several years ago), among many others.

It’s great to see some barriers falling for works in translation, and it seems fitting to finish on another of Freudenheim’s salient points that “most readers want to read great books--wherever they come from. The key is finding the good books and presenting them in an appealing way in order to reach readers.”

Let’s hope more works that are so prominent and much loved in their own language can cross greater numbers of cultural boundaries to gain the prominence and profile they much deserve from a much wider international audience.

Tom Chalmers is the managing director of IPR License.


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