Life is dotted with challenges. The harder it is to acquire, the more you want it. My Holy Grail is having my book translated into English. Call me vain, yes. Vanity is my middle name. I am also greedy and cheeky. A large part of my family and friends is either English or English-speaking and they ask me time after time: Is your book available in English yet? Not yet, I answer politely, not yet.
So it was like rubbing salt in my wounds when I read the recent article in The Guardian Newspaper about the surge in demand for translated literature in the UK, to the breath-taking 5.63% of published fiction (in my home country – the Czech Republic – this number is around 36% of which over half is translated from English – have you ever seen a sadder case of unrequited love?) and I whined. That was when Rosie Goldsmith kindly challenged me to write about my heartache.
It surely was a stroke of luck when I received numerous awards for my novel Jezero (The Lake) in 2017, including the Czech national Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award and the European Union Prize for Literature. My book was also selected as a source text for the Susanna Roth Translation Award for young translators from Czech, thus reaching a broad audience of active and future translators. All this – along with, hopefully, the actual book – helped prepare the fertile ground for the translations of my novel into other languages.
To date, that’s nineteen languages, both minor – like Latvian and Albanian – and major – like German, French and Spanish; European and non-European, such as Japanese and Arabic. Some publishers even fought over the rights in an auction. But sadly, no English.
To date, my agent Edgar de Bruin from Pluh Literary Agency has offered my book to about ten decent publishing houses in the UK, but to no avail. After shorter or longer periods of examining it, they all turned it down, mostly without giving a reason – which is obviously perfectly fine and legitimate, nobody expects them to. However, those who do comment, claim that the translated fiction market is very challenging and they do not want to take the risk. No brave warriors are prepared to accompany my book on its journey to glory – or failure.
My agent says the UK and US markets have been almost impossible to penetrate for Czech authors in the last couple of years, perhaps with the exception of Jáchym Topol. My only hope is that he (Edgar) manages to approach the publisher when in a good mood, after a good lunch perhaps. I am a patient person (not really) and a believer. And one day, surely, I will be able to direct my potential readers to a beautiful shiny cover (navy blue, please) of my English edition of The Lake in bold letters.
Until then, I will enjoy the pleasure of encounters with my readers in all the other languages and find out how magically they relate to the odyssey of the boy called Nami against the backdrop of a much larger story and of a secret which cannot possibly be disclosed to English speakers. Unless … and until.
By Bianca Bellová