Tag Archives: Three Percent

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel longlisted for Best Translated Book Award

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, translated by Bill Johnston, has just been longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Fiction nominees were announced two days ago on the Three Percent blog and include some formidable competition: Robert Walser’s The Tanners, trans. Susan Bernofsky (Switzerland), Ferenc Barnas’s The Ninth, trans. Paul Olchváry (Hungary), Abdourahman Waberi’s The United States of Africa, trans. David and Nicole Ball (Djibouti), Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s Anonymous Celebrity (trans. Nelson Vieira (Brazil), César Aira’s Ghosts, trans. Chris Andrews (Argentina), Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring, trans. Martha Tennent (Spain/Catalonia), Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin, trans. David Colmer (Netherlands), Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future, trans. Joanne Turnbull (Russia), and many other remarkable works. I have to say I’m a little disappointed that El Salvadoran author Horacio Castellanos Moya’s The She-Devil in the Mirror (trans. Katherine Silver) didn’t get nominated, but that’s because I’m currently reading it and think it’s great. Also, I really wish Gombrowicz’s Pornografia (trans. Danuta Borchardt) had been selected: Three Percent might have reinterpreted its rule against retranslations inasmuch as this is actually the first translation from the original… But what to do.

The award, which is in its second year, has been getting oodles of attention in the British and international press, with articles in The Guardian, the Independent, Bookseller.com, and places farther afield; but as Open Letter publisher Chad Post pointed out today on his Facebook profile, U.S. publishing media have been weirdly quiet about it — probably, as subsequent comments suggest, because the news hadn’t been routed to them by a publicist…

Anyway, this year the award has been cleaved in two, evidently to reflect our two literary genders: you know, fiction and poetry. There’s no longlist for poetry, but its shortlist will be announced, along with the fiction shortlist, on February 16th. Unfortunately, the human gender balance doesn’t come off so equitably: of 25 nominated authors, 3 are women. Well. (The 28 translators, on the other hand, are split evenly.)

It would be interesting, of course, to know what the jury’s criteria are in nominating and awarding, and hopefully that will be expressed in some form during the awards ceremony this spring. Until then, hopefully, Jerzy Pilch is in some amazing company. Congratulations all around.


There’s an account on the Open Letter Books blog Three Percent of a recent survey of translation statistics, Ruediger Wischenbart’s (draft) Diversity Report. Open Letter publisher Chad Post discusses some of the salient features of the report:

First of all, there’s no real surprise in terms of which languages are most often translated—looking at the global market, books originally written in English represent approx. 60% of all translations around the world. This number has increased dramatically over the past quarter century, rising from just over 50% of all translations in 1979 to almost 64% in 1999. When you look at the graph in the report, it’s almost shocking to see the English line rise and rise while all the other languages remain muddled at the bottom of the chart, fluctuating slightly, but not nearly as dramatically as English . . .

It’s also not that surprising, but the second and third most translated languages are French and German, respectively. Put together, these three top languages represent around 80% of all the translations published globally. The next five most translated languages are (in descending order): Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch. And taken as a whole, the top 8 languages account for 90% of all translations. (It’s like a wealth pyramid!)

There’s a special section of the report on Central European languages, which is really interesting as well, and it’s from that research that Ruediger uncovered a very interesting correlation: aside from a select handful major political occurrences (e.g., fall of the Berlin Wall) the only identifiable event that directly impacts the translation statistics is when a country is the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. As you can see in his report, translation numbers for both Hungarian and Polish jumped when the two countries were chosen to be Guests of Honor (in 1999 and 2000, respectively) and translation levels from those languages are still higher than what they were pre-Frankfurt Book Fair.

Wischenbart’s report is in part based on the statistics available at UNESCO’s Index Translationum, which has a variety of databases and search forms available. Evidently UNESCO takes stock of all titles published in translation every year, categorizing them according to original language, target language, country of publication, author, and publisher. It is not clear to me from the website exactly how complete this bibliography is, what kind of books it includes (I assume it is the total number of translated books regardless of field), or what their methodology is for collecting the information. It also doesn’t take translations into periodicals into consideration. Also, there seem to be some errors in data entry, as when the numbers for total annual translations from Czech into English jumps from 19 in 2001 to 109 in 2002 and increases again to 308 by 2004 (not that it’s impossible or that I don’t wish the Czechs greater popularity in English, but it seems unlikely given the averages for the previous two decades and the lack of any explanatory event, such as guest-country status at the Frankfurt Book Fair).

Anyway, here are some stats for Polish literature that I compiled based on the Index Translationum data. I cannot vouch for their incontestability, but they do give an idea, I think, of the position of Polish literature in a global book market.

Poland, with 12,279 translated books, is #14 on the Index’s list of the top 50 translated languages, after the following (total number of translated books in parentheses):

1. English (1,000,758)
2. French (186,036)
3. German (169,387)
4. Russian (93,779)
5. Italian (55,397)
6. Spanish (43,365)
7. Swedish (30,738)
8. Latin (16,602)
9. Danish (16,222)
10. Dutch (16,050)
11. Czech (14,642)
12. Ancient Greek (14,315)
13. Japanese (13,437)

It precedes:
15. Hungarian (10,487), 16. Arabic (9,952), 19. Hebrew (8,161), 21. Chinese (7,411), 32. Ukrainian (2,706), and 44. Hindi (1,387), among others.

THE 12 MOST POPULAR TARGET LANGUAGES FOR TRANSLATIONS FROM POLISH (again, total number of translated books in parentheses):

1. German (2777)
2. English (1960)
3. Russian (1325)
4. French (1060)
5. Czech (897)
6. Hungarian (515)
7. Spanish (497)
8. Slovak (405)
9. Italian (297)
10. Bulgarian (291)
11. Lithuanian (286)
12. Dutch (200)

THE 10 LEAST POPULAR TARGET LANGUAGES FOR TRANSLATIONS FROM POLISH (languages with large populations or relatively large readerships):

1. Indonesian (2)
2. Malayalam (2)
3. Hindi (3)
4. Chinese (4)
5. Icelandic (8)
6. Persian (14)
7. Arabic (22)
8. Korean (24)
9. Turkish (31)
10. Greek (31)


1. English (37,423)
2. German (8472)
3. French (5531)
4. Russian (3190)
5. Italian (2546)
6. Spanish (1155)
7. Swedish (752)
8. Czech (689)
9. Ancient Greek (525)
10. Latin (517)


1. German (23,332)
2. French (22,353)
3. Russian (11,531)
4. Spanish (6899)
5. Italian (4307)
6. Danish (3427)
7. Hungarian (3137)
8. Japanese (2625)
9. Czech (2347)
10. Dutch (2234)

Here are two charts comparing annual numbers of translations into English from 1978 to 2005 from the following original languages: Polish, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Hungarian. The reason I’ve chosen these 7 is that after French, English, and German, Polish, Italian, and Spanish are the three most widely spoken languages in the European Union. And clearly Polish, Czech, and Hungarian share a common region and circumstances for transmission into English.

First the numbers:


And now the data compared:


That gap there is pretty extreme. And Polish could be doing better (maybe one day even overtaking Italian?!), though it’s hard to know how to make that happen, especially in the current financial environment. As I mentioned above, the sudden surge this past decade for Czech seems a little fishy. I suspect the numbers are actually in the double digits, with an average of around 25 books per year from 2001-2005, instead of what was entered into UNESCO’s database; but who knows. It is, at any rate, interesting that the Central European languages have generally fared worse since 1989, as Chad Post pointed out. And the spike in 2001 for translations from Polish confirms Wischenbart’s claim that events like the Frankfurt Book Fair have a direct influence on numbers of translations (one would, by that logic, expect a similar spike for the Hungarians in 2000, but it looks like it happened a year earlier, 1999, the year they were the guest country in Frankfurt).

Last but not least:


1. Stanisław LEM (551)
2. Henryk SIENKIEWICZ (389)
3. Czesław MIŁOSZ (186)
4. Janusz KORCZAK (178)
5. Witold GOMBROWICZ (160)
6. Sławomir MROŻEK (149)
7. Ryszard KAPUŚCIŃSKI (146)
8. Karol WOJTYŁA (Pope John Paul II) (133)
9. Joanna CHMIELEWSKA (123)
10. Wisława SZYMBORSKA (92)

Of them, only the popular writer Chmielewska has never been translated into English. Which is interesting, but would require doing some research to figure out why.

2008 Best Translated Book Award

Open Letter Books/Three Percent held the ceremony for its first Best Translated Book Award (for 2008) at Melville House last night. The winners were (for fiction) Attila Bartis’s book TRANQUILITY, translated from Hungarian by Imre Goldstein for Archipelago Books, and (for poetry) Takashi Hiraide’s book FOR THE FIGHTING SPIRIT OF THE WALNUT, translated from Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu for New Directions. As Open Letter publisher Chad Post said in his introduction to the event, the idea for the award came out of his and others’ disappointment that translations were consistently left unmentioned in year-end reports about published books. Congratulations to everyone involved!

Congratulations, too, to the translators, authors, and publishers of the two Polish titles shortlisted for the poetry award: Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki’s PEREGRINARY, translated by Bill Johnston and published by Zephyr Press, and Adam Zagajewski’s ETERNAL ENEMIES, translated by Clare Cavanagh for FSG.


More information on the award and the other long- and short-listed titles here: 3% BTB 2008.