4th Estate hopes to harness the opportunities offered by translated fiction and is working to widen and develop its list. Before taking up her current role, Anna worked for seven years at Hamish Hamilton.
At 4th Estate we see translation as an area rich in opportunity, so over the past couple of years I’ve been working hard to strengthen my relationships with international publishers and agents. It’s also been useful that the HarperCollins Global Publishing Programme now has outposts in so many countries, so we have a network of info and tips. For example, the first I heard of Martin Suter’s Elefant, which we’re publishing in May, was in a presentation at our office before the London Book Fair last year, when our colleague from HarperCollins Germany remarked on its success in German.
I’m drawn to books that feel fresh and timely, to distinctive voices and to novels that move and entertain. In translated fiction, I’m often attracted to stories with a strong sense of place, that offer readers a window onto a world they might not be familiar with. For example, in March I’m publishing House of Beauty, a crime novel set in a beauty salon in Bogotá (by Melba Escobar, translated by Elizabeth Bryer). It offers a fascinating female insight into a culture we often see only a very macho side of.
While international fiction can offer a window into something unfamiliar, it also often reminds me that certain experiences, trends or interests transcend nations and cultures. A recent example for me was reading Chanson Douce, by Leïla Slimani. I knew that this novel was going to resonate in English as much as it has in French, because it explores with such devastating precision the minefield of complex emotions contemporary women in Western society feel around issues relating to work, children and childcare.
This year I’m publishing two translations from German, and they couldn’t be more different from each other. The first is Katja Petrowskaja’s literary masterpiece Maybe Esther, translated by Shelley Frisch (and it was a complex and challenging book to translate!). It’s a memoir about the author’s family’s experiences of some of the darkest moments of twentieth-century history. Everyone who has the remotest interest in history, language and Europe should read this book – it is truly exhilarating, unforgettable. The second book is called Elefant, and Jamie Bulloch has translated it. It’s a charming, fast-moving science- fiction adventure that also looks at serious questions around what happens when scientific research is co-opted by capitalism. It’s lots of fun – imagine a big-hearted sci-fi action caper like E.T., brought up to the twenty- first century. And with a glow-in-the-dark elephant.
I wish there were more prizes we could enter translated books for. Maybe Esther has won four prizes in Germany and one in Italy and yet as translated non-fiction it won’t be eligible for a major prize in the UK. Internationally, fiction and non-fiction are categorised far less rigidly than in the UK. Perhaps UK prizes for translated books should reflect that difference.
I want to find books that will be widely read, that will win prizes, that will spark debate. I will also be keeping my ear to the ground for deep backlist gems and forgotten classics, waiting to be discovered by English-language readers.