Ahead of our celebration of translated fiction as part of British Academy Literature Week, we talk to Adam Freudenheim, Publisher and Managing Director at Pushkin Press.
Adam has worked in publishing since 1998 and was Publisher of Penguin Classics, Modern Classics and Reference from 2004 to 2012. He is perhaps best known for helping to rediscover the work of the German writer Hans Fallada, with the first English-language publication of Alone in Berlin. Born in Baltimore, Adam lived near Düsseldorf and in Berlin for nearly three years and came to the UK in 1997. Adam brings his passion for international literature and exquisitely designed books to Pushkin.
BA: From Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, which won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, to the cult following of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, is it fair to say that fiction in translation is experiencing a surge in popularity?
AF: Do exceptions prove the rule? I'm not sure the outsized success of individual titles is enough to describe a surge in popularity, but there's definitely greater and wider awareness of fiction in translation as a result of such successes and undoubtedly the newly reconfigured, annual Man Booker International Prize - now in its second year – is doing a great deal to raise the profile of such books.
What is special about literature in translation? How is it different to reading a book originally written in your mother tongue?
AF: I don't think that literature in translation is inherently special; it all depends on the book. The reason I'm such an advocate for it – and over 80% of Pushkin Press titles are translated from other languages – is because I feel there is so much wonderful literature from other languages that English-speaking readers deserve to read and would miss out on if it weren't for publishers like Pushkin. These are simply great books that happen to have been written in other languages. That's not to say that there aren't national literary traditions or sensibilities – there undoubtedly are – but I'm interested in great books, for young and old alike, wherever they come and from and whatever traditions they arise.
What do publishers look for when deciding whether to translate a novel into English?
AF: I can't speak for other publishers, but for me it's the same thing that I look for with English-language originals – a good book that I feel excited and passionate about.
Do you think translators get the credit they deserve?
AF: Broadly speaking, yes. Translators are hugely important, and I've benefited enormously as a publisher from the great recommendations of translators who have often drawn books to my attention. At the same time, translators would be out of a job without the authors they translate, so we shouldn't forget the importance of the original work itself.
What do you think the future holds for writers and publishers of translated fiction?
AF: I do believe that there's a trend for more and more adult literature to be translated into English, and I feel confident that will continue to grow in the coming years as more and more translated works win prizes and sell more copies.
And finally, what is your favourite work of literature in translation?
AF: This is an unfair question for an active publisher! But at the moment I'm particularly excited about our Man Booker Shortlisted title Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra) and Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's stunning Waking Lions (translated by Sondra Silverston); while on the children's list I can't wait to publish The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius (translated by Peter Graves) in September and continue to adore and meet fans of our bestselling children's title The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt (translated by Laura Watkinson) which first appeared in 1962 in Dutch and finally in English in 2013.
Adam Freudenheim will continue this conversation as part of a panel at the British Academy event celebrating translated fiction on 18 May. For more information and to book tickets, visit: www.britac.ac.uk/events/celebration-translation. This event is part of British Academy Literature Week 2017.