The Man Booker International prize is awarded every year to the best-translated work of fiction. The prize has probably done more than anything else to boost the amount of interest in translated fiction worldwide. The prize has a very generous award which is divided equally between the author of the original novel and the translator.
The term “translated fiction” is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that it is a very restricted genre with a low readership. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. Novels from every corner of the world are being translated and the interesting thing is that while the sale of fiction in its original language appears to have stagnated, the amount of translated fiction has risen by nearly 100% in the last 15 years.
It is not just German translators and German English translation which are part of a rising tide of interest in foreign works of fiction. Translation is going on between many languages, wherever there is a good source of fiction that has a universal appeal.
While translated fiction itself is not really a niche industry, the actual work that translators of fiction do is highly specialised. The translation of novels and poetry is quite different from the challenges inherent in technical translation, for instance. To maintain the same level of interest in a story, the translator has to search for cultural metaphors and phrases that help to convey what the original author is trying to say.
It is not just a well-applauded effort by translators, of course. The upsurge in foreign fiction is at least partly due to an intrinsic rise in interest of readers themselves as well as a vibrant effort from cultural organisations and dynamic publishers.
Translated fiction has been around for years of course in a more restricted form. Think of the Asterix comic cartoon strips which were available in their translated form way beyond their native Belgium. Asterix and his friend Obelisk were characters from the time of the Roman Empire when brave Gauls attempted to oppose the Roman occupation. The books were translated eventually into 100 different languages with 13 films created around the characters depicted in the books. 325 million Asterix books have been sold around the world since the creation of the original Franco-Belgian characters in 1959.