To complement the theme of the 2017 Vilnius Book Fair – Lithuanian Symbols Around The World – the Lithuanian Culture Institute worked with the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania to hold an exhibition on Lithuanian literary translation called “Lithuanian Books Around The World.” The exhibition featured 115 books by Lithuanian authors published in 33 languages in countries around the world. The exhibition opened on 14 February at 11:00.
The books were placed into 8 categories to reflect a panorama of Lithuanian literature: they include collections, poetry, prose, documentary literature, books for children and exceptional translations (for example – Neringa Abrutytė’s poetry collections in Danish and Greek, Tomas Venclova’s book of poetry in Chinese, a collection of Lithuanian poems in Persian, Vanda Juknaitė’s conversations with children in “Tariamas iš tamsos“ in Hebrew, and others).
The example books were taken from the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania’s foundations and from the Lithuanian Culture Institute’s library of Lithuanian literary translations, and include publications that were prepared and published by the Institute itself.
According to Lithuanian Culture Institute project coordinator Rūta Mėlynė, who organised the exhibition, it would be impossible to count the number of Lithuanian books that have been translated into different languages. “We’d find a number of noteworthy stories if we carefully examined the adventures Lithuanian books have had in other countries. Many would be curious to find out into what languages and countries and why one Lithuanian author’s book or another was translated, or who translated it and what sorts of double meanings they had to untangle to translate the book, or how the book did once it left its creators’ hands for a colourful world full of untold numbers of potential readers,” explained Mėlynė.
One such story involves a German translation of Kristijonas Donelaitis’ “Metai,” which appeared in Germany in 2016. This was the fifth time this piece has been translated into German over the two hundred years of its history. The first time was in 1818 by Liudvikas Rėza. The author of the translation that appeared last year was Gottfried Schneider, an elderly pastor from Berlin who had worked as a professor at Klaipėda University for six years. He took on the translation out of a sense of longing and out of his desire to describe in letters Lithuania and its special and indescribable spirit to his wife back in Germany. Upon his return to Germany, he showed the translations to a specialist and, after receiving a positive evaluation, decided to translate the entire work. However, the translation spent a long time in the pastor’s drawers and the opportunity to publish it only came almost two decades later.
Some books set out into the world together with their authors, weaving themselves into their fates in their new countries. The greatest traveller and most widely read and acknowledged among intellectuals is Tomas Venclova.
His books have been translated into 15 languages over 38 publications in various foreign countries. Poet and essayist Eugenijus Ališanka also likes to travel, as 11 of his books have been published around the world in 6 languages. Icchokas Meras’ books have been translated into 12 languages, Saulius Tomas Kondrotas’ into 11, and Grigorijus Kanovičius’ into 10.
Lithuanian translator Vytenė Muschik was followed to her second home in Germany by a real translation of a handwritten manuscript of Dalia Grinkevičiūtė’s memoirs, “Lietuviai prie Laptevų jūros,“ that was found buried in a glass bottle after the author’s death. Through the translator’s initiative, the book immediately became a best-seller in Germany in 2014. The German publication lead to others: a Finnish translation appeared in 2016, a French translation should be appearing this year, and there is word that negotiations are under way for English and Romanian translations.
Some books had the good fortune of finding translators who called Lithuania their second home. Carmen Caro Dugo from Spain, Mark Roduner from Switzerland, Jonas Öhman from Sweden, Mahyr Gamzajev from Azerbaijan, Vlad Zhurba and Vasili Kapkan from Ukraine, Jayde Will from America, and poet and bard Georgi Jefremov from Moscow.
600 books by Lithuanian authors during our years of independence
In 2001, Lithuania began supporting national literary translations into various foreign languages. A Lithuanian literary translation support program was created to this end. For almost a decade, this program was managed by the public institution Books From Lithuania. The Lithuanian Culture Institute took over that function and has been carrying it out to this day. To distribute the funds set aside for the translation support program by the state, competitions are organised twice a year that are open to foreign publishers who are thinking of publishing translations of Lithuanian authors’ works in their own countries. The number of publishers doing this grows every year, and every year sees many more applications than can be covered by the program’s funding. The funding, however, given Lithuania’s upcoming presentation at the international book fairs in Leipzig and London, has also increased significantly – from EUR 30,000 in 2012 to EUR 100,000 in 2016. Translators also submit applications to translate excerpts from books, so 15-20 book excerpt translations are funded every year. These are a great aide in the search for publishers for Lithuanian authors’ books.
The translation support program has been operating for 16 years. During that time, 246 Lithuanian authors’ books have been published in 29 languages since 2001 – no less than 15 Lithuanian books a year.
The Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania provided data about Lithuanian literary translation since 1990, or throughout all 26 years of Lithuanian independence, but these numbers aren’t final, either. As of the beginning of this year, there were about 550 names of Lithuanian authors’ books in 38 languages that have been published beyond Lithuania. This number does not include books published in foreign languages within Lithuania, representative publications for foreign publishers (like anthologies or excerpt collections that the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Institute for Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, and any other Lithuanian publisher can prepare and publish).
By comparing the data from the Lithuanian national library and the Lithuanian Culture Institute, it can be said that about 600 Lithuanian authors’ books have been published in foreign countries during the country’s 26 years of independence.
The leading languages that Lithuanian authors’ books have been translated into since 2001 are German (48), Russian (26), English (24), Polish (20), Italian (19), and Swedish (15). Some languages have only received one Lithuanian book each during this time period: these include Azerbaijani, Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Norwegian, Dutch, Persian and Turkish.
There are also record-setting translators, like Klemen Pisk, the only translator translating Lithuanian literature from Lithuanian into Slovenian. Thanks to him alone, 10 Lithuanian books have been pubished in Slovenia in 10 years, including novels by Jurga Ivanauskaitė, Kazys Boruta, Sigitas Parulskis and Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė, Tomas Venclova’s collection of poems, and Vytautė Žilinskaitė, Ingrida Vizbaraitė and Kęstutis Kasparavičius’ children’s books. The tireless translator is currently preparing a translation of Richardas Gavelis’ “Vilniaus pokeris.“ In addition, he personally looks for and successfully finds publishers for each of his translations. Mirjana Bračko, a translator into Croatian, is no slouch either. Her bibliography includes 9 Lithuanian books with a 10th on its way this year – a collection of essays by Giedra Radvilavičiūtė, who has spent several years looking for her own publishers in Croatia.