Translations: A Long Cultural Journey

Dr. Christine Cornet shares the efforts taken by the French Book Office in India in facilitating translation of French titles into Indian languages.

Dr. Christine Cornet
Dr. Christine Cornet

Translation is not merely changing words into other languages. It is also a long cultural journey. Literary translation is one of the most challenging types of translations. It helps to shape a reader’s understanding of the world, their history, philosophy, politics, and more.

From French to Indian languages…

These past 5 years, the French Book Office in India has supported more and more French titles into Indian languages. In total, 242 new titles were translated into Indian languages (English included). The first trend is the interest of the regional languages publishers for classic & contemporary French literature. Some classic authors (Camus, Daudet…) have a second life with their books translated today in Indian languages. This new trend of translating from French into regional languages such as Malayalam, Bengali, Hindi, Tamil affects a new readership. Patrick Modiano is translated in Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali. Yasmina Khadra, Maylis de Kerangal, David Foenkinos or Leila Slimani are translated in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi. The richness of Indian languages is an asset for French publishers who understood that there was not a single book market in India but rather book and readership markets.

In the domain of French social sciences & humanities, Indian publishers have their favorites: Roland Barthes, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are still translated in different Indian languages (Malayalam, Hindi). But new philosophers such as Jean-Luc Nancy, or young sociologists as Jules Naudet, who explore the question of international terrorism and the ecological crisis (Nancy) or the urban elites in an international comparative perspective (Naudet) offer to the academic and non-specialist readers a new way of thinking about the world.

French children’s and young adult books, graphic novels and comics are gradually attracting Indian publishers. Asterix translated in Hindi was an incredible challenge to capture French humor. Marjane Satrapi with her Persepolis which has been a worldwide success is now available to Indian readers who read Hindi.

L’Alcazar, the album written and drawn by Simon Lamouret, is a social and cultural portrait of an Indian city (Bangalore) and society seen through the lens and pen of the French author. Marianne Dubuc with Facteur souris, brings a large album where we follow the tour of a nice postman personified by a mouse who distributes letters on foot. He goes to different families of Rabbit, Bear and other animals and always shares an optimistic message.

Various translation projects…

In addition to PAP Tagore (the financial support programme for translation), the French Book Office has launched 3 Translator’s Factory. Since last October it has set up three professional training courses in translation from French into Indian languages. The objective is to identify a new generation of young Indian translators from French to Indian languages (Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil)

Then, the reciprocal invitation of France as the guest of honor country at NDWBF and India at Livre Paris 2022 constitute two “rendez-vous” which will strengthen our Indian-French publishing industries cooperation.

Dr. Christine Cornet is a university professor and historian on China. Her research focuses on the history of Shanghai and the French Concession before the communists came to power. She uses old photographs that are compared to archives to write history differently. She is the author of several books published by Scheibli édition, Actes-Sud and Ellipses. After being the Book Attachée in Beijing from 2006 to 2010, she now works as Attachée for the sector Debates, Ideas, and Books at the Institut français en Inde (French Institute in India).

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