CULTURE

New study casts light on how Greek books fare abroad

How easily can a Dutch or French reader find a book translated from Greek at large bookstores in their own countries? Who are the least translated Greek writers? What statistics are there concerning the standard «passports» into Greek literature – Cavafy and Kazantzakis – in other countries, in other languages, at different times? What shapes the preferences of translators, and how good are the translations? The answers to all these questions are to be found in a major study conducted by the Center for the Greek Language (CGL) from 1998-2002, which called a meeting in Athens on June 6 to announce the results. The study, titled «Distribution of and support for Modern Greek literature and studies abroad,» was directed by Professor Takis Kayialis and funded by the Greek Culture Ministry. Modern Greek specialists representing 10 languages (Bulgarian, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbo-Croat and Turkish) studied the readership of Greek literature in foreign languages, as well as book distribution, translation quality, and the criteria – chance or planned – by which books are chosen for translation. Until this study was completed, there was no clear picture of how Greek books fared in foreign markets. Since the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001, where Greece was the guest of honor, Greek authors have made regular appearances at international book fairs, and local publishing houses regularly announce which of their titles are being translated into foreign languages. But there had been no systematic study of their distribution and reception. What the researchers discovered «Publishing houses don’t do enough to promote the translations they publish,» says Marc D. Lauchtermann, a professor at the University of Amsterdam. In general, the researchers concluded that it is hard to find translations of Greek books at major bookstores abroad, apart from university bookstores. A best seller in Greece won’t necessarily become one abroad, since readers in each country have very different preferences. Authors identified with the Left and with politically committed literature are translated and read more in former Eastern bloc countries, without literary quality necessarily being a criterion. «We lack a good dictionary and translation of Greek literature,» says Jovanka Jovanocic, a professor of literature at the Institute of Balkan Studies in Belgrade. That problem is not confined to Serbia. In Turkey, the works by Greek authors that have gone into the most editions are by Yiannis Ritsos (130) and Nikos Kazantzakis. «’Zorba’ is a model that still applies,» comments Euripides Garantoudis, who was responsible for the Italian part of the research.