Paperbark Merchants: The case for reading translated fiction
This week while zhuzhing up the shelves, I came across a cache of translated fiction books in the new release section.
Although translated fiction is no stranger to our shelves (we have translated fiction from all over the world), what made this handful of books stand out to me was that these novels all unfold in either a library or bookshop setting.
Both settings are dear to my heart and standing at the shelves with the books in my hand I wondered what could these authors have to say about the life of booksellers and librarians in Korea and Japan?
What similarities and differences would I read in these pages that could either support or challenge my own lived experience as a bookseller?
In the 2023 article published on the Booker Prizes website, translator Frank Wynne champions translated fiction as being a powerful medium for fostering empathy and nurturing curiosity.
Author Vigdis Hjorth suggests the success of translated fiction is supported by the fact it enables the reader to experience representations of a cultural “other” from within the familiarity and safety of their own language.
The reader is given an intimate view of life elsewhere, a private window from which casually to glean cultural experiences outside of their own, all from the comfy, familiar surroundings of their favourite reading space.
We here at Paperbark have noticed a surge in recent years of publishers funding the translation of fiction outside of the Anglo-sphere.
This could be in response to the degree of world cinema and foreign series that have become mainstream viewing on platforms such as Netflix and Stan.
Whatever the reason, we have seen an exciting swell in consumer appetite for diverse content, applying to both young and old readers.
With the shelves successfully tidied, I bought a copy of each title:
- What You Are Looking for Is in the Library, by Michiko Aoyama.
- Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop, by Hwang Bo-Reum.
- The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa.
- Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, by Satoshi Yagisawa.
And later added them to my now gravity-defying “to be read” pile.
Following in the fantasy and magical realism traditions of authors such as Murakami and Ishiguro, these titles expertly embellish the everyday-isms of the real world with fantastical elements.
I implore bookish folk to engage with these titles and explore what tales these authors have to tell us about books and life with books from across the globe.
Billie-Jo Whitbread is the events co-ordinator and box office manager at Paperbark Merchants in Albany
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