what makes a modern classic (a translation point of view)

this weeks literary blog hop question is what makes a modern classic tough question from Megan is a teaser ,who knows what makes a classic it is a real mixture of luck and talent ,what may be a modern classic now may not be a classic in twenty or more years ,who is popular sways with taste and sometimes even the economic situation as is the case with the current resurgence in Ayn Rand books ,well to answer the question I ve chosen to talk about my main love works in translation what makes a modern classic in translation well there is books that were published soon after the writers wrote them that have grown into classics ,like Sebald his works we’re very fresh in the style of writing and quite unlike anything that had been seen in english or schlink where one book was a huge success the reader is a perfect modern classic .Now there is a second tier of books these are books that  considered huge in their homeland but haven’t straight away been translated into english or have been then the fallen out of print these include one of my favourite books this year Hugo Claus wonder which was a new translation of a Flemish modern classic a book that had been crying to be translated ,or Peirene press stones in the landslide a touching novella that was a huge hit in europe when it was written in the eighties but had to wait for Meike to translate it ,also the last few nobel winners have seen publishers diving to retranslated  or  republish their books Herta Muller and JMG LE Clezio both had books in new translation or reissued these are huge in their homelands and needed to be more widely available in english and thanks to there Nobel wins have done .Then the last books in translation I think could be considered modern classic are what I call refound treasures these are writers from the 30’s and 40’s that have just been republished or newly translated in to english ,these include Vasily Grossman ,Irene Nemirosvky ,Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth now these books are classics in the Natives but in english are modern classics as they’ve just become available to read for us .What hits the English market is really at the whim of publishers and I know there are writers yet to make an impact in english but are considered modern classics in their own languages ,I eagerly await these .


My all time Favourite modern classic in translation – rings of Saturn by W G Sebald a touching book that still touches me as I flick through it and read bits every week .

26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Benoit Lelievre
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 00:34:21

    Good choice, Sebald is one of those writers who flew under much people’s radar. I only knew Austerlitz, but I’ll check him out, tnx.


  2. Mel u
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 01:35:12

    I need to add Sebald to my “I hope I read in 2o11” list-!


  3. Em
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 01:45:34

    I think you’re right to mention translation. It is crucial. A book can be a classic in its country but not universally (even within the English-speaking world).
    I have never read Ayn Rand, and this is the second week I see her mentioned, I will have to fill this gap.
    For the sake of argument, I am not sure I would consider The Reader a classic. I has enjoyed popularity (the film might be a factor here, the same way as literary awards would be) and, yes, it deals with important issues, but I found it a bit flat and I think that other works on the same topic will stand time better. Yet, maybe I’m just biased, or maybe something was lost in translation 😉


  4. Rise
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 03:54:07

    Here’s another nod for Sebald! Austerlitz is one of my anticipated reads for next year.


  5. Richard
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 04:00:39

    Excellent points about the importance of translation in conferring “classic” status (modern or otherwise), Stu! For my part, there are few things more annoying in the blog world than seeing an American or British blogger who claims to love “classics” and then seeing almost all U.S. and UK authors represented on their lists–as if classics were only written in English. How provincial!


    • winstonsdad
      Nov 30, 2010 @ 00:11:00

      yes I think in last couple of hops I ve focus on us and english books ,won’t be in future my passion is world lit and will be using that in future ,I hat classics being considered just a few european books and loads of us english books loads great books out there from around the world if people search ,all the best stu


  6. Caroline
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 06:15:11

    Very interesting post. I am only just discovering the world of English translations as I want to review books that are available in English for my readers. I am really astonished how little of what I or others in Europe consider to be great is translated. I have been working for a German editor for years and read books in different languages just to evaluate if they were “fit” for translation. When something was “too French” (meaning too many allusions to French culture/daily life a reader outside of France wouldn’t understand) I had to opt against it. Or when it didn’t fit the editor’s program. I turned down Houellebecq! I would be interested to know if there is another editor apart from Peirene who is dedicated to translated books only? We got a Swiss editor like this Unions Verlag. Only books from around the world. Check their catalog. http://www.unionsverlag.com/info/ It’s fabulous.


    • winstonsdad
      Nov 30, 2010 @ 00:13:04

      A lot of it seems to be the commisoning editors that choose what we read as it is what they think is good and they tend to miss some real gems ,all the best stu


  7. litlove
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 08:11:28

    It’s almost got to be a prize that means a modern European (say) author gets into translation and over here. Although some enterprising souls do take a risk on the writers who are making waves in their own country. I like both Marie Darrieussecq and Marie NDiaye, very very unusual authors and quite ‘French’ in their style (following on from Caroline’s comment) and saw that they had both made it into translation. Whether they will become classics, though, remains to be seen. Watch out for Antoine Volodine if he gets into translation – i think he’s amazing but not yet widely known.


  8. Kevin Faulkner
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 08:45:30

    I think you’ll discover in your life-time that Sebald’s popularity will dwindle considerably. An author who has a sudden death attracts publishers to promote heavily and readers to worship as a cult figure, as is always the way with untimely deaths. His popularity has only grown since his death. His fame is still riding on these facts.

    Also he really did not know that much about Browne whatsoever. For 25 years he lived in Norwich without any interest in Browne whatsoever until encountering Browne’s skull in 1996 when ill in hospital. Then after a death-experience he became an enthusiast. A true literary magpie who has fooled you all with his literary appreciation of Sir T.B. identifying himself with Browne’s alleged melancholia and fascination with death. Sebald of course desperately wanted to believe in some kind of life after death and resurrection but couldn’t take on Browne’s Christian mysticism.’Rings of Saturn’ isn’t is a bad book at all, quite interesting in places, just vastly over-rated.


  9. Caroline
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 12:56:14

    Em, I do believe that the translation of The Reader makes it loose a lot of its appeal. It stands out in the German production for its American storytelling feel. As a German book it is unique as it is highly readable. German literature in the original language is often unwieldy yet Schlink is light. Like Süskind. Both are very cinematographic.
    I wanted to add another thought. Sometimes a book is more of classic in its translation than in the original language.
    I like the idea of a literary magpie, btw.


    • Em
      Nov 26, 2010 @ 13:03:47

      I take your word for it. I just found that it was lacking something. It was certainly an easy read, so it didn’t leave me with bad memories, but I would have liked something a bit more.
      Funny you mention Süskind. I read The Pigeon (in French translation) when I was 13 and it left me with bad memories, so bad that I’ve never managed to get myself to read The Perfume, which I would actually like to read…


  10. Debnance at Readerbuzz
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 14:58:23

    Why is it that so many wonderful European books or Australian books or Asian books never make to America?

    What happens when people start throwing around phrases like “contemporary classic”? Literary Blog Hop: Contemporary AND Classic?


  11. gautami tripathy
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 16:38:32

    Great choice!

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!


  12. mywordlyobsessions
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 22:44:46

    I’ve heard so much about Sebald and ‘Rings of Saturn’. I must make a mental note to try and get a copy. I’m really impressed with your list of foreign books. Translations fascinate me. I have come across a great many good ones a few bad ones. Notably, ‘Spring Flowers, Spring Frost’ by Ismail Kadare was a very bad one. I knew something was wrong when I discovered it was translated from the Albanian version into French and then into English. Bad move!

    Great post. Oh, talking of ‘classics’ and translations, I recently discovered that Yasunari Kawabata’s ‘Snow Country’ won the Nobel Prize in 1968 after it was translated into English. It’s a novel I’m looking forward to reading.


    • winstonsdad
      Nov 30, 2010 @ 00:08:23

      I m not sure about the Kadare translation be bad his work is easier to translate to french then english I read a article a while ago explaining why by the translator who works with Kadare I may suggest that is may be not one of his best novel the prymaid is good ,al the best stu


  13. parrishlantern
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 23:29:35

    Not read any Sebald, so at some point will have to remedy that. enjoyed your post & the cornucopia of writers in it.


  14. parrish
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 08:53:30

    Hi, with your love of all things translation, have you come across Edith Grossman’s – Why translation matters, or Gregory Rabassa- If this be treason: translation & its dyscontents. Would be interested in your opinion if you have.
    Thanks, parrish


  15. Lisa Almeda Sumner
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 22:59:18

    Sebald is sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me. Chinua Achebe came to mind, although I didn’t mention him in my post. Maybe the classics of this era will not come from North America at all. I didn’t see any mention of Indian, Chinese, or African literature, but it could be that is where “contemporary” classics will originate. Thanks for bringing translated literature into the conversation, Stu.


    • winstonsdad
      Nov 30, 2010 @ 00:03:55

      well I trying to put forward translation as much as ever on blog now ,I think asian lit will rise over next few years for sure we’ll see more novels from china ,all the best stu


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

November 2010


%d bloggers like this: