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A New Great Wall

May 13, 2010

Edith Grossman in Foreign Policy:

One of the truly great war correspondents, a monumental figure who reported from Afghanistan for 20 years and won almost every literary prize offered in Italy; a humanistic French-Tunisian scholar who has sought a middle way between Islam and secularism; an Eritrean writer whose epic saga of his country’s troubled history subverts both official versions, the Ethiopian and the American. They are some of the most important voices in the world today, honored intellectuals in their own countries. You’re not likely to have heard of Ettore Mo, Abdelwahab Meddeb, or Alemseged Tesfai, however, because they are rarely translated into English. In the English-speaking world, in fact, major publishing houses are inexplicably resistant to any kind of translated material at all.

The statistics are shocking in this age of so-called globalization: In the United States and Britain, only 2 to 3 percent of books published each year are translations, compared with almost 35 percent in Latin America and Western Europe. Horace Engdahl, then the secretary of the Swedish Academy, chided the United States in 2008 for its literary parochialism: “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.” [More]

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