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Raise your eyes

Spring is the time of translated literature.


Spring is the time for the rest of the world, for those who are walking the narrow road, and for all the good books that are not Dan Brown or Paulo Coelho, and that maybe just a few are sold.

- The autumn is almost reserved for the Norwegian authors, no matter what quality they deliver, says information coordinator Karine Kristiansen in Bazar publishing house to Ny Tid.

- I like the book spring better than the book autumn, precisely because this is the time for the well-translated books, says reviewer in Vårt Land, Liv Riiser, to Ny Tid.

The publishers' spring lists offer Norwegian readers many unknown names. For those who need a knowledgeable hand to rent along this road, several publishing houses carry their own series where translated authors not named Dan Brown or JK Rowling can show up.

She deliberately looks at the publishers' series for new literature from foreign authors when she is about to review new books. Aschehoug has the Nova series, Gyldendal has the Marg series, and Solum has the Fabula series.

- Here I find from experience many hidden treasures, says Riiser.

The Fabula series counts as far as 25 works written in the twentieth century. These are books that are, or according to director Knut Solem of Solem publishing house should have been, modern classics.

- These books have a completely different cycle than current bestsellers. They are "long sellers". Narrow literature is a long-term investment. We are deliberately complementing the Anglo-American

literature with translations from Spanish, French and German, for example.

The troubled book by Fernando Pessoa was the first in the Fabula series, published in 2000, and has sold between 8000 and 10.000 copies.

- Best sellers associated with the book autumn 2006 have been forgotten over the New Year. An example? Ari Behn's new book, for example, is probably not eternal literature, Knut Solum thinks.

Volume insignificant

He is very pleased if the books in the Fabula series sell 2000 copies, and usually receive between five and seven reviews.

- In Norway, some Norwegian authors receive enormous attention, at the expense of the rest of the Norwegian writing staff, and largely the entire foreign. You can not want to live with this tabloidization. We can not be the narrower and heavier books without. They do something with the language, he says.

- It is in the cards that translated literature is of higher quality than Norwegian literature. There we choose from all over the world. When Gyldendal publishes, say, 30 translated books a year, these 30 are selected from 300 titles, says Gordon Hølmebakk, retired editor of translated literature at Gyldendal.

He was editor of the Vita series, which introduced 69 authorship in Norwegian, from Alice Munro in 1982, to Georges Perec in 1996. Greats such as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Richard Ford and Pier Paolo Pasolini appeared for the first time in Norwegian under Hølmbakks editorial , just like Orhan Pamuk, this year's Nobel Prize winner in literature.

- Now, I understand, Pamuk sells quite well. When I chose him, I did not even bother to look at the sales figures. Volume was not important to us. The Vita series had another mission.

It is no secret that translated literature sells poorly than the Norwegian authors. The circulation figures for the Vita series were around 1500.

- You can hardly go lower. I do not remember a single case where the edition was sold out. But these numbers are not the whole story of these books! Important writings continued to sell, such as paperbacks. Even though an author who is new to Norway only sells 400 copies the first year, the last word has not been said in Norway for that author, says Hølmebakk.

For example, both Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck were introduced to Sigurd Hoel's Yellow series, one of Vita's forerunners. Their works are printed again and again in Norway.

Secures the economy

However, some so-called narrow novels manage to break through in the Norwegian market. In the weeks before Christmas there is a 20 year old novel, written by a 90 year old Hungarian author who has not been published in Norwegian since 1967. So far, Magda Szabós Door has been printed four times, giving a total circulation of 4300.

- Szabó has received many and rave reviews. This has a very positive effect on sales, the editor of translated literature at Aschehoug, Asbjørn Øverås, informs Ny Tid.

If Szabó's success was a "wonderfully pleasing surprise," one of Aschehoug's previous projects was an example of the opposite. Somali Nuruddin Farah's Links, according to Øverås "a gem, and one of the foremost African Nobel candidates," received two brilliant reviews when it was released last year. And sold almost nothing.

- In a country with many Somali immigrants, I thought Farah could arouse the interest of many, but that was not the case, says Øverås.

Nevertheless, he cites literature from the Third World as a market in growth in Norway.

- I think I see more from the Arab world and relatively less from the Anglo-American, continues Øverås, who believes that this in Norway is connected with an increased interest in the Middle East – and the Cultural Council's procurement scheme for translated literature, Mosaic.

The Cultural Council covers the entire translation fee for titles included in this project, plus a 25 percent bonus, and purchases 500 copies. Arabic literature forms a large part of the Mosaic project.

- We try to maintain a good balance between light and heavy literature, but the geographical focus is random, says editor-in-chief Birgit Bjerck in Pax publishing.

If something is to be highlighted, Pax is currently heavy in Finland. Pirjo Hassinen with Kongeparken and Monika Fagerholm with The American Girl are on the spring list, and in the fall Kjell Westö's new novel comes.

Of course, light literature also has its place in 2007. This spring, Robert Wilson will present a new crime novel about Javier Falcón, Günter Grass' memoirs When the onion is peeled is released, and everyone who follows Sophie Kinsella and Stephen King gets their dose. Later this year, both Dan Brown and Harry Potter will steal column space, while other spring guns are JM Coetzee, Khaled Hosseini (the man behind the Dragon Runner), Paul Auster, Ian Rankin and José Saramago.

Customer Lise Knudsen from Kongsberg stacks high in his shopping cart at Norli in Oslo city center. Swedish Per Olof Enquist and Kerstin Ekman, Turkish Orhan Pamuk, Norwegian Henrik Ibsen and Amalie Skram, and Polish Ryszard Kapuscinski will be given away, all in Norwegian language costume.

- I stay away from translated bestsellers. The bestsellers are bestsellers because the list is low. It is the path of least resistance, and what is there to enjoy? she asks.

There are no traces of Paulo Coelho or Dan Brown in Knuden's basket.

- Narrow? This is not really narrow literature, these authors should belong to a kind of middle class, but it hardly exists anymore. The mass market has become so large that the middle class has been squeezed together, says Knudsen, who is himself an author.

The editor-in-chief Birgit Bjerck also believes in Pax.

- To create space around the big bestsellers, to review the other and at least as good literature, it takes some time. There is less publicity about the translated literature than the Norwegian one, and there is a greater financial risk associated with publishing it. The purchasing scheme only applies to selected titles and the purchases are smaller per

title. In addition, translator costs come, says Bjerck.

This polarization has also been noted by Gyldendal veteran Gordon Hølmebakk. On the one hand, the huge successes of Harry Potter and bestsellers such as the Da Vinci Code have dominated the translated literature in Norway in the last 10-15 years. At the same time, he has seen a boom in the really narrow literature, largely thanks to the small publishers, or "kitchen counter publishers" such as Solum and the Book Friend.

- The reason why the publishers have been able to publish narrow titles with financial impunity is that Norway has become an educational society. Remember that in the old days, artium was in itself an education, says Hølmebakk.

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