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  • Writer's pictureRob Paul

Why we need translation

For International Translation Day, we asked literary translator and Audrey editor, Lucy Rand, to give her take on why we need translation.

Escapism done properly

The first motivation people cite for reading or listening to fiction is to escape, and the easiest way to escape is to read about a life or a place that’s unfamiliar. Personally I’m really into Japanese literature at the moment. There’s something about the atmosphere that Japanese authors and their translators create that is so distinctive, and so far from the atmosphere of my daily life.

But whether we want to escape to an island off the coast of Finland, a cabin in the mountains in Italy, or into the life of a convenience store clerk in Japan, we need translation.


Different languages have different literary traditions that have been formed in completely distinct, sometimes isolated, social and cultural contexts. You’d be hard-pushed to find an author who claims their writing isn’t influenced by a whole ecosystem of the writing that has come before, and when we start reading fiction in translation, we expand this ecosystem thousands-fold.

Rónán Hession’s novel Leonard and Hungry Paul is famously free of conflict. This, according to the Anglophone canon, is a recipe for a flop. But Hession reads a lot of literature in translation, and noticed that there are other ways to structure a gripping novel that don’t depend on conflict, thus ushering a new way of writing and reading into English-language literature.

We wouldn’t have Ferrante…

Or De Beauvoir, or Tolstoy, or Fanon, or Knausgård, or Proust, or Tokarczuk, or the Bible, or Jansson, or scandi-noir, or Murakami…

For the mathematicians

94% of people in the world have a first language that isn’t English.

5% of fiction published in the UK each year is translated.

So, how much are we missing out on? You do the maths…



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