Raising the Profile of German Literature

From January 2004 onwards, Literix will feature sample translations of German books on the Internet, with a particular focus on readers in Arab countries. Petra Tabeling enjoyed a sneak preview of this new service.

“Litrix“ – that’s the magic word for raising the world’s awareness of German-language literature. From January 2004 onwards, sample translations of German books will be available on the Internet, with a particular focus on readers in the Arab countries. Petra Tabeling enjoyed a sneak preview of the new service – offline.

Litrix.de

​​Janosch's children's books – in Arabic? An Internet portal plans to make this possible: Litrix.de is an online magazine that aims to reach publishers, lectors, translators and readers abroad. This unique Internet project is financed by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and sponsored by is supported by the Goethe Institute and the Frankfurt Book Fair. In its first year of existence, Litrix will focus on the Arab countries, with its opening timed to coincide with the Cairo Book Fair in January 2004. Already, Arab publishers have shown a great deal of interest. Litrix’s first public presentation at this year’s Book Fair in Frankfurt gave them the opportunity to find about more about the project.

Communication across cultural and linguistic barriers

For Mohammed, director of the Meret publishing house in Cairo, the project represents a bridge between German and Egyptian culture. Up to now, his list has been dominated by a handful of German classics, with Marx, Engels, Kant and Goethe leading the field – because “the great world-changing ideas, positive and negative, have come from Germany”. Mohammed would like to have more German literature on his list, especially modern authors such as Peter Weiss and classic writers such as Kafka. The main obstacles have been his limited knowledge of foreign languages and the difficulty of financing translations. In countries like Egypt, this is a real problem, as German books are still a kind of luxury item there. (The same point is made by a librarian from Cairo, whose task it is to purchase books for her library.) Now help is at hand from Litrix.de, which will provide English and Arabic translations of contemporary works of German literature – online and free of charge.

A jury’s selection

Foto: AP
Soon to be available in Arabic? - Janosch

​​Besides literary works, Litrix will also provide translations of books for children and young people. This was particularly good news for one translator from Morocco, as she is a big fan of Janosch, a German children’s author who has yet to be translated into Arabic. It remains to be seen whether her particular wish will be fulfilled, however; a special jury will choose the books to be translated. In considering a selection of suitable titles, the jury will draw on its knowledge of the religious, social and cultural differences between Europe and the Arabic world. To begin with, 15 sample chapters will be translated into English and Arabic, and these will be followed by new titles each month. This core programme will be accompanied and supplemented by translations for specific regions, travel grants for authors and publishers, and workshops and training courses for translators.

”Raising the profile” of German literature

Dr. Anne-Britt Gerecke is in charge of the project. In an interview with Qantara.de, she describes how the well-known German writer Monika Maron provided the inspiration for Litrix.de. After Ms. Maron had expressed the desire to “raise the profile” of German literature, representatives of the Goethe Institute arranged a meeting with the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Monika Maron works for the latter institution, as a member of a selection committee.)

Sensitive, un-bureaucratic and fast

Although several German cultural bodies already maintain projects to support translation, Litrix.de is the first institution to do so online. “It’s the most practical way”, says Dr. Gerecke. Instead of sending magazines or slim volumes “to the four corners of the globe” – never knowing who you’ve actually reached – the Litrix concept “allows anyone to sit down in the middle of the night, to visit our web pages, and to find links to other institutions, too”.

As yet, the Litrix website only plays host to a preview of forthcoming attractions – but on April 1st, 2004, the site will be launched at the Book Fair in Cairo.

Building bridges in the Internet – with literature

Litrix.de wants to build bridges, using contemporary literature as a means of overcoming clichés and prejudices. This is a task that seems all the more urgent since September 11th. Litrix will enlist the help of authors such as Günter Grass, and will focus on the literature of “Die Wende” (“The Change”) – the period after the Fall of the Wall in 1989. The publisher Mohammed sees this as “a revolutionary process”. And he feels sure that this process will also help to promote democratic dialogue, a matter of great importance to him and his company: “Ours is a publishing enterprise that supports freedom of thought and opposes taboos”.

So who knows: maybe one day soon, we’ll actually see “Janosch in the Orient”.

Petra Tabeling, © 2003 Qantara.de
Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan

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