As Amazon open up foreign language literature to an English-speaking audience, Matthew Jones examines why our reading habits need to go global
We live in a fantastic world, a world everyone can get their work published and will be made available to a global audience. A world where, provided that there’s a demand for it, it will be translated into different languages giving such works international exposure.
Sadly, this is always not the case though. While many books that are originally published in English will be translated, the same cannot be said for the other end of things. As such, Amazon.com have launched a new publishing venture aimed at bringing new books to English-speaking audiences.
The official site for this new venture, called AmazonCrossing, says that the service will introduce readers to emerging and established authors from around the world. They argue that only a handful of books are translated for English-speaking audiences to enjoy and that AmazonCrossing will introduce them to existing works for the first time.
Using a strategy tested in Amazon.com’s first publishing venture, AmazonEncore, Amazon are getting feedback from their customers about old and new literature that deserve a wider audience. AmazonCrossing arranges for foreign-language books to be translated into English and makes them available to purchase online, either as a Kindle compatible eBook or a good old-fashioned paperback novel.
A quick look at the main page shows you that a lot of effort that has already gone into this project, with titles available from a variety of locations such as Croatia, Ukraine, Germany and Brazil. These titles have been published in a variety of prominent world languages. Many of the pages for the books come with Q&A sessions with the authors, so you can acquire a comprehensive understanding of the novel’s premise as well as the reasons it deserves to be read. There is also an active community page with hundreds of posts recommending new novels.
One such example of a foreign work that could benefit from this system is Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which details the experiences of a German soldier during World War One. Published soon after the war in 1929, had it not been for the novel’s overwhelming success in Germany, it could well have slipped into obscurity, but instead it was published in English the next year and made into a film soon afterwards.
Its successful reception worldwide also stands to the fact that an English-speaking audience can appreciate international literature, as the book is now considered by many to be a classic work. The opportunity to release it through this system could potentially introduce the novel to an even greater audience, further cementing its status as a classic piece of literature.
The argument can be made that if any foreign language book today was really that impressive, then it would surely be recognised as worthy of translation. But can we really be sure of that? Steig Larsson’s Millennium Series. Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who played with Fire and The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest were all originally written in Swedish and have received critical and public acclaim by the English-speaking market. Yet the literary market is still flooded with pale imitations, which attempt to bask in the success that authors such as Larsson have obtained.
Larsson’s work only succeeded because of the acclaim it received in his home country. There are a significant amount of books published every year that will never be as fortunate, as a book can only be judged when it is opened and read. Amazon’s new service is a step in the right direction, offering everyone in the world the chance to have their work published and read, regardless of what language they write in.
One look at AmazonCrossing’s forums will show you the hundreds of titles that have been suggested for translation. Many of these books seem incredibly interesting, and the kind that some would not hesitate to buy if available in a shop.
The online AmazonCrossing community is very active and will undoubtedly support the translation of these books. The more people learn about the service, the more it looks set to grow. It is offering a unique, affordable service with seemingly limitless potential for those looking for something new to whet their literary appetite.
Any attempt to improve the quality of world literature and offer new writers the chance to be discovered outside of their native country is commendable. With AmazonCrossing tapping into a potential goldmine, it could be the first step to a greater consumption of international literature.