Publishers Try to Sell Chinese Fiction in Translation

At Bloomberg Businessweek, Christina Larson looks at the prospects for translated Chinese works in America. Currently, the flow into China of books translated from English and other foreign languages is much larger than the reverse.

[…] “China has the largest reading public in the world, but until recently we’ve had relatively little access to its literary scene,” says Post. Yet he is optimistic about the future of translated Chinese works in America. “People are more familiar with China. The pitch for a book doesn’t have to rely on painting China as exotic and crazy anymore.”

Last fall China’s Mo Yan, a novelist known for his magical realism, won the Nobel Prize in Literature, turning global attention to mainland writers. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a historian at the University of California at Irvine and the author of China in the 21st Century, says he increasingly assigns Chinese contemporary fiction to his classes. Recently Amazon.com (AMZN) launched AmazonCrossing, which sells e-books in translation; in March it published its first book translated from Chinese, Xu Lei’s thriller Search for the Buried Bomber.

The most active scout for new Chinese voices is Penguin Books, which just merged with Random House. Some Penguin titles, such as Northern Girls, a fictionalized account of migrant factory workers’ lives by Sheng Keyi, made their debut in the anglophone world in Australia. “Australia’s increasing Asian identity means there’s greater interest in Chinese authors,” says Jo Lusby, managing director at Penguin China. [Source]

Despite the current translation deficit, Paper Republic’s Nicky Harman pronounced 2012 “a good year” for Chinese-to-English translation. See more on translation, including interviews with translators Howard Goldblatt and Allan Barr, via CDT. See also Paper Republic’s translation journal Pathlight, available quarterly in paper, Kindle or iBook formats.