Catalan books have been translated by 1,600 publishers worldwide
The 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair, a “turning point” for Catalan literature to go international, according to Ramon Llull institute
It was back in 1967, with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco still alive, when an Irish woman translated into English La plaça del Diamant (The Pigeon Girl). It is the masterpiece of Catalan exiled writer Mercè Rodoreda, one of the top-selling of all-time of the Catalan literature. For her work, the Irish amateur translator only earned 45 pounds, and a small firm took the ‘risk’ of publishing it.
Now, half a century later, the novel has been translated into 36 languages, and another book by Rodoreda, Death in Spring (La Mort i la Primavera, in Catalan), has just been published in English by the prestigious British firm Penguin (its book launch will take place at the Tate Modern of London on May 29 featuring Colm Toibín, the also Irish writer who wrote the prologue for this edition). This is such an “achievement” for Catalan literature, according to Izaskun Arretxe, the head of Literature at the Ramon Llull Institute (IRL), a public entity which aims to promote Catalan language and culture abroad. Since the IRL records began, “1,600 publishers worldwide have translated books in Catalan into other languages,” as Arretxe explained in an interview with Catalan News.
"Catalan literature, at this very moment, is in a very healthy point"
Izaskun Arretxe · Head of Literature at the Ramon Llull Institute
And the trend is going upwards, according to her. “Catalan literature, at this very moment, is in a very healthy point.” One of the reasons was its presence at the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair as guest of honor. “That was a turning point; from then on, every year we have increased the number of translations from Catalan to other languages, and I think this is not going to stop,” she said.
The top languages with more translations
Spanish language is the one with more translations of Catalan literature, with books aiming to make it not only into Spanish bookshops, but also the ones of Spanish-speaking South American countries, one of the aims of the IRL for the future. “After Spanish, we have French, Italian, German and Polish; I would love to say that English is there, but it is not, we are increasing translations into English, but this is growing a bit slower,” she added.
One in four translations are classics
Speaking of genres and topics, “all kinds of literature are translated into other languages,” including both classics (23% of the total) but also modern books. With fiction being accountable for the majority of the translations, poetry makes 15% of the total. One of the main keys for the success, according to Arretxe, is the presence of the Ramon Llull Institute and the Catalan literature in world-class book fairs such as Frankfurt, Bologna (for children’s literature), London, Paris, Warsaw, Beijing, Rome and Istanbul, among others.