The Blagger's Guide To...Literature in translation

The Bible exists in 2,400 of the world's languages


The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize will be awarded on Thursday in a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects, where the winner will receive £10,000 to be split between the author and the translator. This year's shortlist is:

*Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky from the German, published by Portobello Books. Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras, translated by Frank Wynne from the Spanish, published by Atlantic Books. The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely from the Turkish, published by Faber and Faber. I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, translated by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson from the Norwegian, published by Harvill Secker. Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated by Edith Grossman from the Spanish, published by Atlantic Books. The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jull Costa from the Spanish, published by MacLehose Press

*When the BBC compiled a list of the nation's favourite 100 novels, eight were translations from other languages. The highest ranking, at 20, was War and Peace, by Tolstoy, followed by One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which came in at 32. But the UK's all-time favourite novel was The Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien, which features some of his made-up languages. That almost counts as translated.

*If you've ever wondered how the process of translation works, then the "live translation event" planned at the LRB Bookshop on Sunday 19 June should be a window on to a new world of language(s). Daniel Hahn (a previous Indy Foreign Fiction Prize-winner) has invited fellow translators Shaun Whiteside and Mike Mitchell to battle over a piece of text by the German-language writer, Daniel Kehlmann. The live translation-off starts at 11am, and "it doesn't matter in the slightest if you don't speak German," Hahn reassures us, "I don't either." Go to lrbshop.co.uk and follow the link to World Literature Weekend.

*The Bible is the most translated book in the world, thought to have been translated into 2,400 of the world's 6,800 recognised languages – 98 per cent of the world's population has access to a Bible in a language in which they're fluent.

*After the Bible and the sayings of Mao Zedong the book which has been translated into the most languages is The Alchemist, by the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. It can be read in 67 languages. The Harry Potter books exist in 65 languages. Agatha Christie is the second most translated author after Shakespeare – as the dustjackets proudly boast. Her whodunnits have been translated into 103 languages.

*The biggest translated sensation in the UK recently was Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author of the Millennium trilogy. The books have sold nearly 30 million copies worldwide, and have sparked a revival of interest in Swedish authors such as Henning Mankell who wrote the Kurt Wallander series. They have been translated into 37 languages.

*The League of Nations set up a database of translations called the Index Translationum in 1932. After the Second World War it was handed to Unesco, which still runs it. Occasionally, its rankings change, most intriguingly in April 2008, when Shakespeare overtook Lenin, who was later overtaken by Enid Blyton.

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