AmazonCrossing: Where fiction in translation is thriving by Judith Vonberg

The Frankfurt Book Fair 2016 has just finished. At the event a year ago, Amazon pledged $10 million of funding for one of its trade imprints, AmazonCrossing, which commissions and publishes novels in translation. At the same time, the imprint started accepting submissions from authors, rather than just selecting books internally.

AmazonCrossing had already become the biggest publisher of translated fiction in the USA, bringing out 46 English translations in 2014 compared to Dalkey’s 30 and Seagull’s 21. In 2015, that rose to 75 titles. And now, with extra funding and a growing profile, it was looking to grow even further. So what has happened since?

The imprint is expanding rapidly and receiving widespread praise. The number of books published is continuing to rise, as is the number of languages involved. Novels are now translated from Afrikans, Bengali and Ukrainian along with German, French and Spanish, and the imprint has also started publishing books translated from English into other languages.

In a recent blog post for Teleread, Len Edgerly describes AmazonCrossing’s contribution as “missionary work”. “Its editors are not confining themselves to high-minded writing best appreciated by English majors and MFA students,” he writes.

Indeed, while the imprint has literary prizewinners on its author list, most of its novels would be considered genre fiction – romances, thrillers and young adult books. As Sarah Jane Gunter, international head of Amazon Publishing told The Bookseller last year, “Hey, if they’re good stories, we like them”.

Translators have also spoken highly of their experience working with AmazonCrossing, despite the bidding system. “You can’t help thinking that if what they’re looking for is to know your rates, not for a sample translation, then they will probably give the contract to the lowest bidder,” Nicky Harman told The Guardian last year. “But that’s not been my experience, so clearly Amazon [is] flexible.”

Gunter has also rejected the idea that the system creates a race to the bottom. “We’re focused on finding the best match in a broad variety of parameters,” she said. “Translators put forward proposals for the project they would like to work on with us, and then our editors work to match up the best translator for the book.”

Here are a few of the European novels made available to Anglophone audiences this year through this unique publishing process:

1. Rage by Zygmunt Miloszewski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

This gritty crime novel is set in the idyllic Polish city of Olsztyn. Prosecutor Teodor Szacki is investigating a skeleton discovered at a construction site, only to find that the remains are fresh not ancient, the flesh chemically removed. Szaki first suspects the dead man’s wife, but then another victim is discovered, alive but maimed. His new theory is a disturbing one: someone, driven by rage, is targeting domestic abusers.

2. Love in Exile by Ayse Kulin, translated from the Turkish by Kenneth Dakan

Set in 1920s Turkey, the story follows Sabahat, a young Muslim woman known for her intelligence, drive and stubbornness who convinces her parents to let her pursue her education. She meets and falls in love with Aram, an Armenian student. But Aram is Christian and neither family approves of the match. They refuse to relinquish their love, however, and defy traditions, borders and the will of their families in their search for a way to be together.

3. The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt, translated from the Swedish by Tara F. Chace

The first book in ‘The Valhalla Series’, Hildebrandt’s novel is a tale of love, war and magic set in the tenth century. The protagonist is young Sigrid, visited in her dreams by a goddess who tells her of her destiny to become the mother of the king of the Nordic lands. Her ability to see the future guides her through dangerous political waters as a bloody war between Vikings and Christians rages on. But Sigrid faces her toughest dilemma in choosing a husband. Should she sacrifice her will for the greatest Viking kingdom of all time, or will she follow her heart at the risk of losing everything?

Upcoming publications:

1. The House by the River by Lena Manta, translated from the Greek

This novel, set in a small Greek village, tells the love story of Gerasimos and Theodora. Despite many obstacles, they marry and have five daughters together. These girls, soon women, are scattered across the world by romance and their professional ambitions. Each sister follows her own path but they are bound together irrevocably by the house by the river that awaits them all.

2. Captain Riley II: Darkness by Fernando Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Alexander Woodend

This is the second book in Gamboa’s Captain Riley Adventures series. The first, set in 1941, followed the adventures of Captain Alexander M. Riley and his crew of deep-sea treasure hunters – a band of smugglers, travellers and expats. Their escapades led them into trouble with MI6, Nazi agents and Spanish crooks and it was up to Captain Riley to steer them and their ship, the Pingarrón, out of trouble. Expect similar adventures in the upcoming translation of Darkness.

Find out more about the titles available through AmazonCrossing or propose a book for translation here.

By Judith Vonberg

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe website on 12 December 2016.

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