16 Translations of One Novel.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports for The Guardian on Iran’s unfortunate copyright situation:

Iranian authors who publish in their home country are offered some protection under national law, but the work of writers who publish outside Iran is completely unprotected. According to the Tehran Times, one Iranian translator has secured the copyright to produce a version in Farsi of Paula Hawkins’s 2017 novel, Into the Water. But at least five others are already working on competing translations.

Thanks to Iran’s love for literature, Tehran bookshops boast a diverse range of foreign titles, spanning everything from Marcel Proust to Haruki Murakami. Even works rarely seen in UK bookshops, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, are abundant in Iran – and widely read. That said, censorship is rife: the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance vets all books before publication, and most are redacted – although under the current moderate administration, there is increasing leeway.

Translators in Iran enjoy a degree of popularity rarely seen in the west; their names are published on covers alongside the authors’, and some are famous cultural figures. […]

The popularity of foreign fiction and the difficulties of obtaining permission have exacerbated the problem of multiple translations of the same book popping up, with some translators exploiting the copyright vacuum – particularly so for bestsellers. Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, for instance, has been translated into Persian by at least 16 different people. Recently, Arsalan Fasihi, who has translated Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, warned that the issue could trigger a “downfall of Persian literature” because it was affecting the quality of translations.

At least there seems to be some pressure to change things. (I might add that I shake my head sorrowfully at “works rarely seen in UK bookshops, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education.”) Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Almost like The Great Sermon Handicap but in reverse.

    The story has been translated into 57 languages and all of them published in a 6-volume set by J.H. Heineman, New York, in 1989.

  2. Oh my God. I need those six volumes.

  3. The lack of cross-recognition of international copyright is in other respects wonderful for the consumer; local reprints of any Lonely Planet you want for 2 €, software by the bucketload for very little more than the price of the DVD (legally). And now I actually read it this article is about copyright, and its effects on the market for translators.

  4. I don’t know why you sound so boldly surprised, since my introduction said “Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports for The Guardian on Iran’s unfortunate copyright situation.” (Bold added.)

  5. With regard to that “The Great Sermon Handicap” collection of translations, it came out in 1989. The translations into Eastern Bloc languages would have been made when those countries were still behind the Iron Curtain, and so some of the translators are quite likely to have been emigres in the West. I wonder if that affected their translations, rendering Wodehouse’s work into a style that speakers in the countries in question would have seen as awfully old-fashioned, from before the war.

  6. Which would be appropriate, in this case.

  7. Bathrobe says

    Is there a large gap between pre- and post-Iron Curtain language? What sort of differences are we looking at?

  8. “Which would be appropriate, in this case.”

    One might make the case that an old-fashioned style captures Wodehouse’s particular era, but I have occasionally heard Eastern Europeans complain about literary translations produced by emigres, as the language is just too far from what a reader today would find pleasant to read.

    “Is there a large gap between pre- and post-Iron Curtain language?”

    Definitely. The Lithuanian, Polish and Romanian, for example, written by emigres preserved a large number of words that fell from usage in Lithuania, Poland or Romania during the postwar decades. Inversely, emigres’ language lacked the influx of new words referring to Communist officialdom or modern society in general.

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