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Issue 83 – November 2011
Wednesday 30 November 2011 by Diyana Yosifova
Bridge Over Troubled Waters:
“Translation and Transition: Bulgarian literature in translation (1989-2010): data, observations, recommendations”, a study by Next Page foundation, is the first-ever research-based policy paper on the topic based on bibliographic data, interviews, and case studies. It also outlines translation trends over the past 20 years and suggests policy approaches towards better support for Bulgarian participation in global literary communication. Here is a brief summary of study results. The full text is available in Bulgarian here.
The study comprises the first complete bibliography of Bulgarian prose, poetry and drama, consisting of 721 titles, translated into 39 languages, and published in more than 40 countries after 1989. The data was collected from 16 European libraries, the UNESCO Index Translationum, ISBN agencies, numerous catalogues of foreign publishers, reviews in literary periodicals, and personal archives of authors, translators, and experts in Bulgarian literature.
Covering the period of the last 20 years, “Translation and Transition” explores tendencies in literary export and communication after the liberation of the publishing industry from political and ideological state control. The first few years following the fall of the Iron Curtain were still marked by the legacy of the planned economy, thus most of the translations were published as part of pre-1989 schedules and agreements between the Comecon countries. The unfreezing of the literary scene in the 90s was flavored by a pinch of enthusiasm and euphoria, yet for a long time (until the beginning of the 21st century) the translation flow remained weak and unstable, and no mechanisms were established for presenting Bulgarian literature in the global translation market. During that period, the Bulgarian literary scene seemed enlivened by an experimental – if not rebellious – drive in the field of poetry, and did not manage to offer enough “exportable” fiction. Thus, it “gambled away” the chance to take advantage of heightened interest on the part of Western publishers.
It was not until 2000 that the number of translations from Bulgarian showed stable growth, which has lasted up until today, despite the global financial crisis of the last few years. The boom in novels written and published in Bulgarian has also initiated a new rise in the translation flow - more than 300 titles have been translated since 2000.
Predictably, the list of the top ten most translated authors is dominated by both established and emerging prose writers. The writers with the highest number of translations into the highest number of languages over the last 20 years are Alek Popov and Georgi Gospodinov, both from the younger generation that emerged after 1989. While offering a reflexive and well-timed perspective on the totalitarian past and the transitional period, their fiction remains in step with the current trends in world literature.
All the top ten most translated authors are contemporary. Several of them, such as Yordan Radichkov, Victor Paskov, and Blaga Dimitrova (a prominent dissident and the first democratically elected vice-president after 1989), among others, played a leading role in connecting Bulgarian culture to the world after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The quality of their works and the strength and firmness of their “voices” serve as a motivation for a whole generation of literary translators from Bulgarian such as the French translator Marie Vrinat; the Italians Giuseppe Dell’Agata, Danilo Manera, Leonardo Pampuri, and Daniela Di Sora; as well as the Polish translator Hanna Karpińska, among others.
Bibliographic research has made it clear that the list of publishers with Bulgarian titles in their catalogues presents a curious and somewhat baffling mixture of small and large companies, commercial and not-for-profit, mass-paperback and high-profile publishers. The list, however, is dominated by publishers who have a special interest in minor or “marginal” languages and literatures, no matter how “the periphery” is defined – East European, Balkan, Slavic, Mediterranean, “peninsular”, “endangered”, etc. For example, the top ten publishers include the French L’Esprit des Péninsules (17 titles), the Austrian Wieser (13 titles), and the Italian Voland (12 titles) – all of them publicly supported and headed by missionary figures closely connected with the Bulgarian cultural and literary scene. The profile of the most active publishers partly explains the top ten most frequent target languages, which include French (87 titles), Russian (77 titles), German (56 titles), English (36 titles), and Italian (31 titles). Nevertheless, one cannot predict whether this tendency will be sustained in the near future, as the long-standing crisis in the humanities and the inert policy of the Bulgarian governmental and academic institutions have gradually led to a reduction in or even the closing of Bulgarian departments abroad. As a result of this, the number of active literary translators from Bulgarian is slowly but surely decreasing.
Judging from the feedback received since May 2011 to date, it seems that the study has been more enthusiastically received and more actively used outside of Bulgaria – by cultural organizations, publishers and book-event organizers, rather than in the country whose cultural policy it was meant to serve.