Theater of Cruelty

No Indian for booths

There is glowing interest in Indian books elsewhere in Europe. In Norway, it is freezing.


[books] 70 Indian authors and 173 Indian publishers went to Frankfurt in October, where for the first time in 20 years, India was the main theme during the autumn book fair. In Germany, there is talk of an India hype, with 50 translated books from India's around 24 regional languages ​​just this year. So will Norway be flooded with books from and about India next year? Or?

- The development will not affect the Norwegian book market at all, unless an Indian book becomes an international bestseller of the type God for small things by Arundhati Roy. Or an author is frequently referred to as an important new voice, like Pankaj Mishra. By the way, he has not yet been translated into Norwegian, says Jan Kjærstad to Ny Tid.

Nor does Kjell Olaf Jensen, leader of the Norwegian Pen, think we will get any India wave in Norway.

- I do not have the impression that Norwegian publishers go to Frankfurt to study the country that is presented, they rather meet the same colleagues they meet every year, Jensen believes.

- Sad stuff

In Sweden, the largest publishers are criticized for lagging behind, but at the same time several books with an Indian theme will be published this autumn by Swedish authors, from Zac O'Yeah's burlesque crime novel Tandooriälgen – where Gothenburg has changed its name to Indian Gautampuri – to reportage books, anthologies and essay collections. Interest is also growing explosively in the United States and the United Kingdom, and this autumn the Anglo-Indian author Kiran Desai walked away with the prestigious British Man Booker Prize for the novel The Inheritance of Loss.

What about Norway? Can Norwegian readers roll into widely spoken Indian novels and enlightening fact books about the world's second most populous country? No, the India wave has not yet crossed the Swedish border. “Translated literature is a sad thing. It sells so poorly, ”said Per Bangsund in Kagge Forlag to Dagsavisen when he explained that the publisher would not use his option to publish Booker winner Desai in Norwegian. A check with the largest Norwegian publishers also resulted in the following short list of the Norwegian-Indian book harvest:

  • Pax has published the novel The Tidal Land by Indian-American Amitav Ghosh, and translated poems from Buddha's time from Sanskrit and Pali into the Brothers' songs.
  • Gyldendal has released Magical Seeds by VS Naipaul, the sequel to Half a Life.
  • Gyldendal Facts has released Asia. A cookbook, including Indian food.
  • Wera Sæther's children's book The Mammarita House (Cappelen) takes place in India.

- We absolutely follow what is offered from India, and it is true that there is a lot at the moment. But so far we have not completely fallen for anything, and then we do not throw ourselves on any wave. We also do not think that questions about publications from India have anything to do with support schemes, says Birgit Bjerck, editor-in-chief of Pax.

Movies and dance

In Sweden, an explosive interest in Indian film and dance is pointed out as a partial explanation for the flood of books, and the Norwegian book industry has predicted a breakthrough for Indian literature since the anthology India tells was published in 1992. "Previously, for example, we did not read Indian literature in Norway. Now it is completely normal, "said publishing editor Aase Gjerdrum to Aftenposten in 1998, and the same year VG wrote that" Indian literature is soon as hot as a tandoori chicken "in a review of Kiran Desais Guruen in Guavalunden.

Rather, it has only been about breakthroughs for individual writers, often Indian emigrants, such as Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai (Kiran's mother), VS Naipaul, Vikram Chandra, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy. Their success has not automatically made it any easier for other Indian writers to be translated into Norwegian.

- I almost get to express myself with a phrase from A Thousand and One Nights: What I Know

about Indian literature you can write on the finger of your little finger, says Jan Kjærstad.

- I have noticed that the Norwegian newspapers wrote surprisingly little about India being at the center of the Frankfurt trade fair. Maybe we, with a little luck, will get Kiran Desai's new book in Norwegian. On the other hand, she is the representative of the Indian literature we know, the one written in English and often by Indians who have lived in England or the United States from a young age. Since India has over one billion inhabitants, I imagine that there must be excellent literature written in, for example, Telegu, Tamil, Kannada or Gujarati. But to find this, another Norwegian publisher is dependent on foreign publishers finding it first.

Rita Kumar, advisor to international students at NTNU, believes Norwegian readers can have a lot to gain from the rich Indian storytelling tradition. At the same time, she thinks a lot is difficult to translate.

- You should almost have an Indian background, or at least have visited India, to understand all the references to ancient traditions and cultures. Indian literature has greater considerations about life and people around us, and stronger ties to our own roots and extended family. In Norway, life goes faster, and that gives us less time to reflect, Kumar believes.

Calls for curiosity

But what is the reason for the poor supply of Indian books in Norway? Is the market too small, the public uninterested, the support schemes too poor, or do the publishers not keep up with the times?

- It's another combination. The publishers are not eager enough, the support schemes are not good enough, and it may also be that the Norwegian public is not too interested in what is happening around the world. The situation is quite depressing, and most countries, except for the USA and the UK, are given too little priority, says Kjell Olaf Jensen.

Jan Kjærstad believes that Norwegian publishers have an impressive list of translated books to be a small country, also from countries outside the West, and that we are relatively much better than countries like the USA.

- Since Norwegian publishers have problems selling Norwegian fiction that is different, they will of course have even greater problems with selling, let's say, translated Indian literature that is different. The purchasing scheme is good and Norwegian publishers are good. But both can get better. And Norwegian readers may become more curious.

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