The Amazoning of Literary Translations

While I was previously aware of Amazon Crossing, Amazon’s literary translation venture, my recent first-hand encounter with it as a reader significantly increased my interest level. I recently read Yuri Machkasov’s exceptional translation from the Russian of Mariam Petrosyan’s unique gem The Gray House, which I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who loves immersive, obsession-forming, sui generis books—really, to anyone who loves books.

Not surprisingly, Amazon Crossing has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in the field of literary translation, as its parent company has done in so many other areas. Detroit Free Press reports that in 2016, it accounted for 10% of all translations, more than any other publishing house. In 2015, Three Percent’s translation blog reported that the number of AmazonCrossing’s translated titles tripled the number of those published by the next press on the list, Dalkey Archive.

Amazon’s growing monopoly in so many fields tends to evoke strong emotions. The Amazon Crossing program has been criticized for allocating projects by encouraging translators to bid against each other (a sadly prevalent model in the translation world in general). In contrast, in Detroit Free Press, translator Marian Schwartz praises Amazon for its editorial process and quality control, stating, “I’ve never been better edited … They’re absolute sticklers.”

AmazonCrossing’s bestsellers include The Hangman’s Daughter, a historical German-language series by Oliver Pötzsch and The Glassblower Trilogy, by Petra Durst-Benning. The publishing venture’s offerings include a broad variety of source languages and genres. Translations from Hebrew include books by Anat Talshir, Sara Aharoni and Smadar Herzfeld.

Any venture that makes international literature accessible and appealing to American and other English-speaking audiences is definitely a step in the right direction, especially when considering the immense amount of resources still left untapped in terms of worthy foreign-language books that deserve to be translated by qualified, passionate, and often underemployed translators…

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