Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

American Publishers Take an Isolationist Stance

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

American Publishers Take an Isolationist Stance

Article excerpt

Do books travel across borders and leap oceans?

The Harvill Press in London publishes only foreign books that have been translated into English. Or nearly so. Some were originally written in American, and a very few books were by English authors. But page after page of Harvill's glossy catalogs list books that were translated from the Italian, the French, the Russian, the Swedish, the German. And on and on, a sort of atlas of the world's composition, mostly literary fiction.

There is no publishing company similar to Harvill in the United States. The book migrations apparently go one way, from the United States to elsewhere. Against that tide there is usually only the English mystery and thriller fiction, with only occasional exceptions. Richard Seaver, co-publisher of Arcade Publishing in New York, said that "Americans have become isolationist from a literary point of view compared to the `50s and `60s, when there were lots of translations here, of Sartre and Beckett and so forth." Arcade publishes only 45 or 50 books a year, with about a dozen foreign translations, mainly literary fiction. "When a foreign translation sells 50,000 or 60,000 copies, that's a huge exception," Seaver said. Five thousand is the more likely figure. "For many years we were only able to sell between 3,000 and 6,000 copies of Octavio Paz, and he was a Nobel Prize winner." (Paz, who died in April, is now selling better for his current American publisher, Harcourt Brace.) Arcade's co-publisher, Jeannette Seaver, says she believes that, simply put, Americans are culturally xenophobic. She cited the French novel Fields of Glory, by Jean Rouaud, which sold about 600,000 copies in Europe and at most 4,000 in translation here. Whether or not she is correct about why, it is true that when one gets beyond P.D. James, Jeffrey Archer, John le Carre and a few other English mystery and thriller writers, the sale of foreign translations in the United States is generally like a nearly empty can of shaving cream: a little air and a few bubbles. HarperCollins, for instance, has been trying mightily to make a big seller here out of the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, whose books have been translated into 36 languages in 74 countries and have sold more than 20 million copies. But only one, The Alchemist, has been a best seller here. There are, of course, other exceptions to the craze for English mysteries. Bridget Jones' Diary (Viking), by Helen Fielding, a British book, will be No. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.