Books in Translation: Background information when reading Fame

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Fame

A Novel in Nine Episodes

by Daniel Kehlmann

Fame by Daniel Kehlmann
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2011, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Beyond the Book:
Books in Translation

Print Review

In a now-infamous statement preceding the awarding of the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature to French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl remarked that the publishing climate in the United States had grown "too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." It's true that no American has won the Nobel Prize in literature since Toni Morrison did so in 1993. However, partly in defiance of Engdahl's statement, and partly in response to the recent run of prizewinners not writing in English, some American publishers are rediscovering the sometimes heady, sometimes just downright entertaining bounty of literature originally written in other languages.

Part of the demand comes, surprisingly enough, from readers of European mystery and suspense novels; arguably the best known of which are the Scandinavian authors Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson whose books are bestsellers in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia. Small presses like Open Letter Books and Europa Editions - which published the first American edition of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, also a bestseller - have sought to fill a gap left by the increasing consolidation and corporatization of large trade publishers. Even children's publishers have gotten into the act, discovering in the works of authors such as Cornelia Funke, Antonia Michaelis, and Nahoko Uehashi the basis for rich fantasy, often drawing on myths exciting and unfamiliar to English-speaking readers. With the publication in English of all these works as well as exciting innovative fiction like Fame and Kehlmann's earlier novel, Measuring the World, American publishers demonstrate a willingness to actively engage in a larger literary dialogue, and American readers reap the benefit, as they gain access to the brilliant, funny, unusual, and often surprising abundance of literature produced by creative and talented authors the world over.

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Article by Norah Piehl

This article was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the November 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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