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Decluttering Global Book Industry: Asian Representations and the Art of Translation

Surfing Asian literature in the bookstore shows how the diversity of the Asian diaspora is contradicted by their lack of availability and inclusivity in the global book industry. There is an imbalance of representation that still exists in the worldwide book industry. From a sample of 7000 books published by Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Doubleday, HarperCollins and Macmillan during 1960 to 2018, only 11% were written by authors of colour.

The problem is quite complex and different to each individual. Authors of colour tend to have difficulty in publishing their work due to the lack of representation in the big book industry. Furthermore, many readers complain since they expect a perfect representation of each culture which often does not happen. And even when it does, some said being an author of colour is hard because when a story does not centre on the negative experience of people of colour, it is not seen as valuable enough to share.

The underrepresentation of not only Asian authors but also people who belong to Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, is unfortunate as there is so much potential in their literature. Each representation offers a lot of rich cultural hints and nuances that we can only find by reading books written by people who belong to that community. For instance, an audiobook voice actress, Greta Jung, attuning to small details, said that there are so many cultural nuances she experienced voicing audiobooks that she could only offer by having the experience of growing up in an environment of a particular culture. In short, exploring books written by authors of colour will always give us a new adventure and offer us a unique perspective of a specific culture. Asian culture provides subtle hints at Asian spirituality and moralism we can notice when reading them. The writing style often reflects common traditions, philosophical ideas about life, and many more aspects that Asian communities share.

A Layer Within the Lack of Representation

The issue of Asian underrepresentation in the book industry is a multi-layered problem. Recently, we saw the rise of Asian literature in a positive direction, focusing on three Asian countries: China, Japan, and South Korea. This, of course, is a good sign seeing the Asian representation gradually increase in the global book industry and people start to appreciate Asian literature. It also tells us how modern Asian literature is now heavily represented by only those three countries.

Chinese, Japanese, and Korean authors deliver many masterpieces. Some titles have even saved their spot as global best-seller books. However, the rise of the three extensive Asian countries’ literature shows how the other parts of Asia are often forgotten and even neglected in the book industry. When people refer to Asian literature, it is almost always books from China, Japan, or Korea. This has mostly been due to the deeply rooted problem in the global media industry where the Asian image is often portrayed and centred by East Asian. In contrast, many other parts of Asia remain invisible and underrepresented. This also affects how literature from South, South East, West, and other parts of Asia are mostly underappreciated because of the lack of spotlight given to them despite the many great classical and modern writers spread across Asia. Despite the fact that there is indeed an increasing representation from all across Asia, such as Southeast Asia, Asian literature is still underrepresented globally compared to books from Western literature.

This problem is not due to the quality of the writing, but the lack of opportunities that were given in the very first place.

Deconstructing The Art of Translation

The art of translation has a heavy interdependent connection with classical Asian literature. The language barrier is historically mentioned as one aspect that creates a gap between Asian and Western representation in the book industry. This is why translated books are often considered a bridge to connect people with more plurality in literature, not only from Asians to the West but also from Asians to other Asians. For example, the classic ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ was introduced to the world by the contribution of the art of translation. While some people think translated books are a great method to close the gap between literature that could not be read due to language barriers, adding an element of complexity from the multicultural process between languages, some also think translated books erased the traditional nuance of how books are supposed to be delivered. On the other hand, the art of translation itself is quite a complex topic as translated pieces are at times not solely based on the original language’s structure and ambience but also on the translator's perception towards the language and culture.

As R.F Kuang says in her Babel, “An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

How we perceive this matter depends on us too. Whether reading translated books will cause a lack of sincerity in understanding the culture and how we can not grasp the content originality or how we believe that translated texts are just translated books will always remain an open question for us all.

An Attempt to Create a Happy Ending For the Global Book Industry

Everyone loves a happy ending. Now acknowledging these nuances, it is important for us to contribute to creating an inclusive environment and a happy ending for the book industry. Start by browsing more Asian literature, supporting authors of colour, or challenging yourself to learn more and explore what Asian literature has to offer. These small acts might be able to make a significant change.

Editors: Alisha B., Uzayer M., Lang D.

Image source: Unsplash


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