Once removed, twice translated

Book Coolie has an essay by Tsipi Keller on writing in English rather than the mother tongue (Hebrew, in her case):

“I’m a guest in the House of English, but, for the most part, a welcomed guest, free to roam as she pleases, especially when she writes and doesn’t have to answer to anyone.

And Complete Review has been wondering why Ismail Kadare’s works have been translated into English from French instead of Albanian. They found out by asking David Bellos, who has translated Kadare.

“Isolated, isolationist, tyrannical and mad, Enver Hoxha’s Albania never signed any copyright convention. (The post-communist Albanian Republic finally signed the Berne Convention on March 6, 1994). For the bulk of Kadare’s writing life, therefore, none of his works in Albanian was protected by international copyright, and were thus simultaneously free (anyone could publish a translation, anywhere, just like that) and unavailable (no self-respecting publisher could buy the rights, since there were no rights to be bought). That’s why it was simply easier to trade the French versions, which were of course © Librairie Arthème Fayard (or © Éditions Albin Michel, for the first works)….”

He explains something else that’s been puzzling me:

Kadare’s low profile in the Engish-speaking world is partly due to the fact that he speaks no English and is thus not available for speaking tours, lectures, radio and television interviews — the kind of author-promotion which seems an essential ingredient for a prominent career as a writer nowadays. (Even an interview with the BBC last week in the wake of the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize was cancelled on grounds that a voice-over translation would make “bad radio”.)

One comment

  1. Probably the fact that Kadare was never a dissident did not excite much interest in the English speaking West. He is said to have been admired as a writer and helped as a person by Enver Hoxha himself.

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