Literature across borders: translating culture to build connections between Georgia and Europe
By Tamar Khurtsia
Laurence Plazenet, Carl Frode Tiller, Isabelle Wery, Katri Lipson, Daniel Pennac … these are just a handful of the 20 European authors, whose works will be translated into Georgian with the support of the European Union's Creative Europe programme and its support to literary translation, allowing Georgian readers to get acquainted with important works of European literature.
Leila Kirtadze is Head of Monitoring of Copyright and Translation at Elfi, a Georgian publishing house: she says European literature is modestly represented on the Georgian book market, compared to English-language works. Elfi is one of the publishing houses that won support from Creative Europe in 2016 for literary translations into Georgian, allowing it to translate the works of 10 European authors.
Elfi and another Georgian publisher Agora received funding from Creative Europe in 2016 to translate, publish, and promote 20 books in two years. Creative Europe does not allocate 100% funding, so publishers also need to find some of the money themselves.
This opportunity enables the translation of literary works from many European languages into Georgian. The fund aims to support cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe, promote the transnational circulation of high quality literary works, and improve access to these literary works so that they can reach new audiences.
Elfi has called its project the "First time in Georgia: 10 EU Literature Prize winners". Within this project, it is translating such novels as 'Encirclement/Innsirkling' by Norwegian writer Carl Frode Tiller, 'God Is My Witness' by the Greek author Makis Tsitas, and 'Ice Cream Man' by Finnish writer Katri Lipson.
“In the last 20 years, Norwegian literature has never been published, and only a few books are translated from Greek and Italian. In order to fill the vacuum, Elfi selected the kind of European authors which Georgian society doesn’t know and which will give our readers some ideas about modern European literature and writers,” says Leila Kirtadze.
Elfi has been on the market for 20 years. Most of the books it publishes are for children. But the publishing house is convinced that translated literature will be greatly appreciated by Georgian readers.
While selecting authors and works, publishers consider the relevance to the time and the readers' taste. That’s why Finish author Katri Lipson is one of the 10 authors who will also be translated into Georgian. Dimitri Gogolashvili is the translator working on Katri Lipson’s book Ice Cream Man.
Generally, I select the book that I would like to translate but in this case they offered me this author and I got interested. The book is about the most recent history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, where a director sets out to mimic real life by creating a film without a script, where the actors learn the story and their part in it as they go. The picture of the communist era is well illustrated and in this regard it should be close and understandable to Georgian readers."
Mzia Gomelauri is translating The Ski Bum, a novel by the Lithuanian-French author Romain Gary, for publishing house Agora, which, among other things, focuses on the translation of French literature.
"The translation of Romain Gary is not new to me. I have already translated his Promise of Dawn, which is a very important work. If it were not for Agora, he would be completely unknown to Georgians. Gary is a very European author. He is also cosmopolitan, because he has a lot of different roots," says Mzia Gomelauri.
She was very happy to be offered to translate this work. "He is a great writer, and writes in a various ways, so you think it's a different person. It’s very interesting to translate his works, perhaps because two cultures cross here. The main character is the American, not French. He expresses himself in a different ways. This all makes it difficult to translate," says Gomelauri.
The director of Agora, Marina Balavadze, puts quality above all else. "The author should not be lost in the translation and we have the right translators, so we can give a guarantee. We have an opportunity to introduce some new translations. So we thought, why not and decided to expand it now and translate books not only from French but also from other languages,” said Balavadze.
Agora's project was named the "European Literature Mosaic" and covered 10 European writers, including Irish author Donald Ryan's novel The Spinning Heart and Italian author Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees.
"There is a great demand for books in Georgia. But as a publisher we wouldn't be able to do anything if it wasn't for programmes like 'Support to literary translation'. Our publishing house could offer two or three new translations for our readers, but now with the project we can offer 10 new authors. All this helps to increase the cultural level in the country. I’m very glad that Georgia is doing its best to be involved in this programme,” said Balavadze.
A publisher can apply for support for a project involving the translation, production and promotion of 10 works of fiction. Eligible costs include the translation, production and promotion of European literature. A publisher can apply for a grant of up to €100,000 (maximum 50% of the eligible costs), and the project must be delivered over a maximum of 2 years.
According to Kati Shengelia, the Head of the Programme Creative Georgia, five applicants applied for funding last year. She hopes the number of applicants and winners will increase in the future.
"This programme is good, because it means a lot of books will be published which wouldn't have been translated otherwise. Also, it is important to understand that you offer work to the translators. The translator's profession is more or less forgotten, in fact the purpose of this financing is also to raise a translator's profile and to make people realise that this is a real profession,” said Shengelia.
While the programme means European authors are translated into Georgian, it also means the works of Georgian authors have a chance to be translated into European languages. And Shengelia feels that for Georgia, joining Creative Europe meant that "Georgian culture was entering the European family”.
"The programme emphasises European identity. By joining this programme, Georgia has taken a very important step. Georgia has a great creative potential and this potential should be developed," says Shengelia.
Kati Shengelia says there is a lot of enthusiasm among Georgian publishers who are preparing to apply for more funding to translate European authors into Georgian. In Georgia, there is a hope that there will be more projects like this in the future, so that EU-Georgian cultural connections can become even stronger. The support of the European Union in strengthening these links is very much appreciated.
This article was produced in the framework of the EU Neighbours east project. The views expressed are solely those of the author of the article.