Posted by: biblioglobal | June 20, 2012

Translation frustration

As an English speaker, I seem to feel a sense of entitlement that books should be available in my language. Not every book, sure. But if a book is important enough to translate, shouldn’t it be translated into English, the dominant language of international communication? In my attempts to read a book from every country, I’m learning that this definitely isn’t the case. I’m very privileged as an English language reader to have access to a huge range of books (not to mention Wikipedia articles). As a result I had never really paid attention to translation as a limitation to reading.

I asked for a book recommendation for Bulgaria from a friend who grew up there. She suggested Tobacco by Dimitur Dimov. I looked it up and it sounded like an interesting book. It was made into a film that was shown at Cannes and was recently selected as Bulgarians’ third favorite book of all time. So you would think it would have been translated into English at some point. But no, as far as I can determine it was only translated into Turkish, Russian, Armenian, French, and Japanese.

There are other Bulgarian novels that have been translated into English, so I’m not stuck for choices, but I feel thwarted nonetheless.



  1. Have you found it under another name? For some reason the English speaking world likes to demand their own title which is bogus! I know I had issues finding a classic novel translated from a native African language (not written in a colonial language) and couldn’t find one. I settled on one that was French, but probably should’ve kept looking.

    • Yeah, I’ve searched by author and nothing promising shows up. There’s a database of translations maintained by UNESCO and no English translations of the book show up there either. (The digital database only goes back to 1979 though, so it’s remotely possible that it was translated before then) What was the African novel you were looking for?

      • Just one that had been translated that was considered a classic. I didn’t have one in mind and that might’ve been the problem.

  2. Makes me want to brush up on my French!

    • If it was Spanish I might give it a try, but sadly I have no hope in French.

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