A Translated Book is Amazon’s Current Bestseller

Well, it certainly does happen from time to time that translated books become bestselling sensations – just think of The Tin Drum, The Name of the Rose, Perfume, The Reader and Dictionary of the Khazars. And of course Stieg Larsson’s trilogy about the resourceful and troubled Lisbeth Salander has been dominating bestseller lists for the past two years. Larsson’s books were written in Swedish, but you’d never know it to look at Amazon’s “Bestsellers in Literature & Fiction” page (which I’ll also upload here as a screen shot, since the real-life page is in constant flux); there’s no indication anywhere that these are books in translation. All three of Larsson’s Lisbeth books were translated by the pseudonymous Reg Keeland (who blogs about his work on them and the experience of having the books’ British editor “Britishize” his translations). Now, keep in mind that this is not Amazon’s actual list of bestselling books. If you consult that list, you will find it to be topped by books about how to cook, how to lose weight and how to invest money – all matters apparently of great concern to us as a reading nation. But at the top of the literature list, you will currently find the novel The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, translated by Lee Chadeayne. This historical novel set in 1600s Bavaria spins a tale around a strange, possibly witchcraft-related tattoo that a hangman finds on the body of a dying boy. The book was published by Amazon in its new AmazonCrossings series, which is devoted to international literature in translation, and the fact that Amazon is able to put its formidable marketing clout behind the books in the series no doubt contributed to the novel’s ascent to the very top of this list. On the other hand, I am delighted to see marketing clout applied to literature in translation, and am hopeful that this very public emphasis on translation will help build broader, more mainstream audiences for the wonderful works in translation put out by other publishers as well. Let’s see how this develops. Meanwhile, why not contact Amazon and let them know you think it’s a problem that they omitted the translator’s name from those Stieg Larsson listings? It’s in all our interests (I’m speaking of, and to, the “we” that love international literature) for as many people as possible to be as aware as possible that those books they’re reading for pleasure came to them through the labor of translators.

P.S. Here’s an interview Helen Gregg just did with Jeff Belle, the head of AmazonCrossing, for Publishing Perspectives.

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