In the High Peaks

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Which German Books Get Published in the U.S.?

Two books by men, two books by women--a wonderful idea to balance this November's German Literature Month! To participate, please visit Lizzy's and Caroline's websites. You'll find the links to Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline's Beauty is a Sleeping Cat in my "Blogs of Substance" list.

And a note to my readers who want to join in, the authors do not need to be ethnically German--the authors' works need to have written and published their works originally in German.. The authors may be nationally or ethnically Swiss, Turkish, Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, I could go on but you get the idea.

The reason I wish I could read German: I really don't like publishers' marketing departments deciding which books in German will be published and translated into English for American readers. I want to choose the German titles I want translated, not marketers' skewed ideas of what will sell.

Now this may seem an unreasonable desire for a person who hasn't managed, after all these decades, to learn to read German, but there it is. If I, if we non-German-literate English language people want to read works by writers of German lit, we have to read what they decide we will buy. Phooey on that, I say.

Now that I've said that, I must congratulate the serious efforts of German Book groups, based in New York City and elsewhere, to influence U.S. publishers, and I want to thank the many independent and university publishers who, as is said in the trade, "take a chance" on these titles.

To go a step further, American publishers love to publish and promote German titles that depict 20th-century historical Germans in morally compromised situations. I'm thinking of dozens of German titles translated into English, but for now I'll mention The Blindness of the Heart by the German writer Julia Franck, which won the German Book Prize in 2007 and was a finalist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. [And for goodness sake, will someone tell me the reasoning behind this English title for the book? Think of the negative connotations. The German title was Die Mittagsfrau. What an English corruption of the original title!] 

So what is my point, exactly? I wish the time would come when we can publish novels about Germany and central Europe that reflect their contemporary society and history. Of course, all societies and cultures are forever affected by their histories, but to play with a tongue-in-cheek metaphor, does every  U.S. novel about Germany have to have a swastika on the cover?


  1. That title! It's awful. The German title is so evocative and so different.
    I used to read such a lot of German authors but far less since the blog as those I find the most interesting have not been translated and I'm tired of telling people all the time how much they miss out. On te other hand, maybe it would inspire editors. Who knows?

    1. Caroline,
      I'm so glad you agree about the unfortunate title. I haven't given up on reading German! We must keep speaking up about German titles, and I believe your and Lizzy's German Literature Month go a long way in doing just that.

      Thanks for the comment!

    2. Judith
      The UK title is "The Blind Side of the Heart" and I think it much more fitting than the original German one! Reasons why stated in my review which I advise you not to read until you've read the novel for yourself.

      The change from "Blind Side" to "Blindness" in the US title, is oblivious to the subtleties of the novel. Ain't it strange what a one word change can do?

    3. Hi, Lizzy,
      Thank you so much for enlightening me as to the UK title. Interesting!!

      In general, the whole concept of the German title would be impossible to translate. I'm no expert, believe me, but I think the translation is supposed to be "Lady Mayday," which supposedly has significance in German folklore.
      I'm so glad you've told me you have a review and I'm looking forward to reading it after reading the book.
      I certainly did not mean to disparage the book itself. I was only chiding U.S. publishers for the types of plots and subject matter they choose to publish. I bought the book because Franck's book has been so highly regarded in Germany and elsewhere.
      Thank you!