One of the many joys of the Internet is the ability to find out about all the many books that you have not read and, in many cases, will never be able to read. Yesterday, for example, I was looking at a post on contemporary Venezuelan literature (the post is fortunately in both English and Spanish). Guillermo Parra, author of the post, makes a telling point – there’s a big problem: Venezuelan books can’t be found outside Venezuela. They don’t circulate neither in Latin America, nor here in the US. Nor, he might have added, in Europe. I am fairly ignorant of Venezuelan literature as, I imagine, are most people outside Venezuela. I do own fifteen Venezuelan novels, of which I have read only one, which is also available in English. It was, however, written over eighty years ago. As Iván Thays states in his blog (post in Spanish only), if there is a boom in the Venezuelan novel, it is only domestic and for the same reason mentioned above – Venezuelan books do not circulate much outside Venezuela. He concludes la literatura venezolana actual es una incógnita [Contemporary Venezuelan literature is an unknown]. I checked out some of the books mentioned in the post and they are not available on Amazon (including the still not very good Spanish Amazon), other on-line Spanish booksellers, the usual book search sites or anywhere else. I could probably track them down from a Venezuelan online bookseller but when I go to the a site of the publisher of most Venezuelan novels, it refers me to a chain of bookshops that do not seem to sell books online. Even if I did find a Venezuelan bookseller online, the shipping costs would be prohibitive. Anyone who has tried to order a Spanish book from Spain through ABE or other similar site will realise that cost of shipping one book from Spain to the UK is often approaching £20. I can’t imagine that a Venezuelan bookseller would charge much less. I have visited Venezuela once – to Isla Margarita on a Caribbean cruise, for one day, but I doubt that I will ever return, though who knows? The result is that , at least as far as my site is concerned, contemporary Venezuelan literature will remain more or less, as Iván Thays puts it, una incógnita.
Of course, for me, all is not lost. I do have quite a few Venezuelan novels already and will probably be able to eventually track down some others here and there. For people unable to read Spanish, there is a limited choice. The Reading Round the World bloggers have tracked down a few in English. Caribousmom has found, how can I put this delicately?, a work which is not great literature, by a Venezuelan living in Denver (see cover at right). Anne Morgan has gone with Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s Enfermedad, translated as Sickness. She also mentions a few others in her main list, though two of those (Suniaga and Torres) are not available in English translation (though there is a Suniaga available in German) and the only Federico Vegas in English is a book about architecture. Falke, which she mentions, is not available in English. Shoshana mentions only a book about Venezuela, not by a Venezuelan. Fred does identify another Venezuelan translated into English.
I have banged on in this blog and on my site about books that have not been translated into English. Indeed, I have a page on this topic (scroll down), with a selection of books that are on my site which I feel should be translated into English. However, there are a host of books out there which have not been translated into any language that I can read. The page above links to some suggestions, such as Finnegan’s List , the PEN list and an interesting list of untranslated Japanese books. But there are many more. In my blog post on Montenegro, I mentioned the case of Borislav Pekić and his seven-volume Zlatno runo (Golden Fleece) which has been partially translated into French (though they seemed to have stopped) but not at all into English. In my post on Luis Goytisolo’s Antagonía (also not translated into English), I mentioned the case of Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Saint Orpheus’s Breviary sequence, which has been partially translated into French and is now being translated into English. I love Marcie Gray’s Arablit blog but I know that there are many books that she mentions which I shall never be able to read. She published a list of the best 105 Arabic books of the 20th century. Sadly, all too many have not been translated. Lizok’s Bookshelf is essential reading on Russian literature but all too often she mentions an interesting Russian novel which I know that I will be unlikely to ever read. I used to keep a list of books I was hoping would be translated but it depressed me so much that I got rid of it. I could list books of many countries – most of the former Soviet republics, most of South-East Asia, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Portugal – where there are all too many books that have not been translated and probably never will be. But let me focus on one nearer (my) home – Ireland.
The novel on the right – Cré na Cille by Máirtín Ó Cadhain is one of the best-known novels written in Irish. On the right, I say that it has not been translated, In fact, it has as Google books shows. However, it has not been published in English. It is a fascinating novel about a village where the dead go to some underground area and spend the time complaining about each other and their survivors, catching up on the gossip as each arrival turns up. No, I haven’t read it, though I own a copy and can read (a very little) Irish. However, I have seen the film, which is subtitled in English (and other languages) but this probably means that I am going to have make progress with my Irish studies if I am to succeed in reading the original. There are other Irish works not translated into English – Eoghan Ó Tuairisc‘s L”Attaque, Séamus Ó Grianna‘s Caisleáin Óir and Beairtle Ó Conaire’s Fonn na Fola, to mention only three. I could do the same for many other nationalities but it is too frustrating. The next post on this subject will be on books that I have not yet got round to reading.