Send us your undiscovered classics …

Walking around the spring book fairs, it struck me (and not for the first time) just how many books that aren’t in English are published every year. Piles of titles with engaging covers fill shelves and tables in the Scandinavian, Other European or Asian areas of these huge gatherings. Cover artwork reflects national identity as much as architecture or bathroom plumbing – it is familiar in some ways but exotic enough to be interesting. Except I don’t speak Korean or Dutch, so I’m not sure how excited I should be.

According to most sources I looked at, the US translates, on average, 500-600 titles a year – compared to a whopping 5000 in France or a similar number Germany. Even if you allow for fluctuations year on year, the gap is huge. Cost is one factor but, if it was the main reason, then the translation of books would be low around the globe – you wouldn’t have this imbalance.

What are we missing? Based on stats alone, I’d say quite a bloody lot.

This is a shout out then – for Monster Books (and also Quarto Translations, I guess). The reason is this: Monster Books is branching out! We want your hidden classics, your forgotten works of genius, your language-locked cultural gems.

If there is an author or book you loved as a child but you’ve never seen in English and you can’t for the life of you understand why, or someone exciting you have read recently who you feel deserves a wider audience, let us know. Even if your favourite book has been translated, but years ago – and it’s out of print now – or the translation ruined it, then we’re interested, too.

Translation brings us together like nothing else: it does for the mind what exotic cooking does for the stomach. There is not a single language on the planet that has a monopoly on the total range of human experience, no lexicon that describes every aspect of our feelings, our fears, our hopes and dreams. Literary translation strives to address this and its successes make the effort worthwhile.

I was incredibly lazy at university – even by student standards. As a consequence, I couldn’t be bothered to read all my set books in French. Instead, I devoured classics in translation. It could be said that this informed my choice of career later in life. Some of these translations were very bad indeed (my copy of La Fontaine’s fables comes to mind, Michel de Montaigne’s thoughts read like the translator was severely depressed – it wasn’t until I got around to reading them in the original that I realised what a lively mind the man had) but some, like Sartre’s Nausee, hit the spot.

So, tell us what you love and we should know about, I want to be very open to everything on this. Later in 2017, we’ll be announcing the Monster Books Literary Translation Award (in association with Quarto Translations). More details to follow but we will 100% fund the best work, based on a sample translation and synopsis. And, unusually for a translated book, the translator will get a decent billing on the cover.