The magic of translation

The magic of translation

The directors of Charco Press, one of Edinburgh’s newest independent publishers, are on a mission to broaden the literary landscape and alert English-language readers that there’s more to Latin American literature than Gabriel García Márquez and magical realism.

Charco Press was formed by Carolina Orloff and Samuel McDowell to showcase contemporary Latin American literature in translation and to "expose the UK reader to new and exciting voices" by featuring authors never before published in English. The pair argue that the literature currently being produced in Latin America, particularly by the younger generations, is "vast, varied and extremely interesting", yet "only a tiny percentage" is translated into English.

The pair see the limited scope of the translated fiction market (estimated to be 3% of the whole fiction sector) as being a result of a distinction being made between translated and non-translated works, which they argue pigeonholes certain titles and dissuades readers from trying them. "If we hand you a novel, in English, and you read it and you love it and it moves you, then should that not be enough? Would your enjoyment of the novel decrease if you subsequently found out that it was originally written in another language?" says Orloff. "Pigeonholing a work as ‘translated’ immediately plants, for many readers, the idea of it being ‘complicated’ or ‘highbrow’, and they discount it." According to the pair, this marketing approach is doing a "disservice" to British readers and "artificially limiting the potential for cultural enrichment" in the UK. As such, Charco Press is determined to focus on the capacity for growth for translated literature, arguing that there needs to be a "radical change" in the way it is presented and marketed to readers.

Charco Press co-founders Caroline Orloff and Samuel McDowell (credit: Christopher Michel)

The market for Latin American work was dormant for many decades, says Orloff, although it is now beginning to "awaken", especially with the visibility granted to Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin by a 2017 Man Booker International Prize shortlisting for her novel Fever Dream (Oneworld). The nod "undoubtably helps shine a light on the literature coming from this region, sparking readers’ curiosity as to what people are writing about," says Orloff, and Charco Press intends to showcase "the extraordinary talent that has been emerging ever since the days of García Márquez and magical realism, which remains one of the few literary references that UK readers have for the region."

Founded in September 2017, Orloff says the first few months of Charco Press have been "equal measures of challenging and rewarding", adding: "Starting from a completely blank page is extremely liberating, however, getting noticed in such a competitive industry, with the pedigree of literature that is being produced, is not easy. Publishing great fiction alone is not enough. We have been very fortunate to have some fantastic support and guidance from some very experienced and talented people."
The press also thanks the "strong publishing community" in Edinburgh which has supported its launch, including Edinburgh International Book Festival, Publishing Scotland, "fantastic" bookshops such as Golden Hare Books, and other publishers.

The press has published five books, and intends to publish five to six books a year. Its 2018 output starts with two "extraordinary" books: Fireflies by Luis Sagasti (translated by Fionn Petch from Spanish), an "indescribable" tale of historical characters; and Southerly, a collection of short stories by Jorge Consiglio (translated by Cherilyn Elston from Spanish). Other forthcoming titles include Julián Fuks’ Resistance (translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn); and Renato Cisneros’ The Distance Between Us (translated by Petch from Spanish), which sold over 35,000 copies in the author’s native Peru and was longlisted for France’s Prix Médicis award.

This piece is part of The Bookseller's in-depth focus on Scotland. Other stories in the focus can be read here.