14 May 2006

Books in translation

For those disenchanted with the quality and focus of much of recent Indoanglian lit, Penguin India's announcement in April 2005 seemed to promise a change. However, PI's programme to publish books in different Indian languages does not boost vernacular Indian writing. Rather, it introduces well-known fictionistas writing in English to Hindi, Marathi and Malayalam readers. We've learned since that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (godawful title) has sold more than a million copies in Hindi, Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi and that, wonders of wonders, J.K. Rowling even made an appearance in Delhi. Paulo Coelho's Zahir, which incidentally is banned in Iran despite hot sales there, is a bestseller in Malayalam. All this in a "soft" country where a sale of 1,000 copies of a book in English is considered good and where 5,000 copies make a best seller. (An exception is P.G. Wodehouse who still sells more 70,000 copies.) Sheela Reddy notes that with the increased purchasing power of Indians translated self-help and management books have become the biggest sellers. I hope that this one-way flow of globalization will not continue to mean a dumbing down. Can we see some better titles please? On a related note, Booker has announced a £15,000 prize for a work translated into English.

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