Slovak translator: The English are still afraid of Slovak literature

Translator Júlia Sherwood talks about the challenges of introducing English translations of Slovak literature to the book market.

Júlia Sherwood (Source: SME)

English speakers do not feel the urge to let translated books enter their market, they feel self-sufficient. Translator Júlia Sherwood has been trying for years to persuade English publishing houses to give Slovak writers a chance.

She has translated pieces by Vilikovský, Bala and Krištúfek, and seeks ways that would work for publishers. Although Slovak literature will never make it to the bestsellers list, it deserves a place abroad, she said in an interview with the Sme daily.

Is there enough Slovak literature in the world? Do they recognise us yet?
Unfortunately, we’re still at the very beginning. When I started translating in 2008, only about 15 works of fiction had been translated into English, with six published after 1989.

Since then, the number has increased to over 30. Is it enough?
This is a huge improvement compared to what the situation used to be like. The pace has picked up, gradually, but it still isn’t adequate to the number of great books that would be worth translating.

The main problem is finding publishers willing to popularise the literature of a country whose culture isn’t yet widely known.

Why?
Mostly because we don’t have so much to build on in the English-speaking world, unlike Czech literature. Every better educated person will have heard of Hašek, Čapek, Hrabal, Kundera or Havel, at least.

Slovak literature doesn’t have comparable big names that people would immediately recognise and that would help put contemporary authors in a wider context. Moreover, translations of the classics of 20th century Slovak fiction are still missing.

Don’t you want to translate these classic works?
I didn’t actually study Slovak literature and so I’ve focused on contemporary titles that resonate with me and reflect the reality I know.

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