France has always appreciated Greek poetry and prose and has provided the appropriate ground for many important Greek writers and intellectuals to unfold and show off their creative work. In addition, our country received recently an important honorary distinction for the translation of a flagship work of modern Greek literature; Iakovos Kambanellis’ “Mauthausen”, which earned the Prix du Livre étranger 2020 France Inter/JDD 2020 (Albin Michel 2020, translated by Solange Festal-Livanis).
France is the exception to the general rule when it comes to the presence of Greek literature in publishing and this distinction proves once again the extent and the depth of knowledge of Greek literature in France.
For example, EKEBI (Greek National Book Centre) features 2,228 entries in its archive, of Greek literary works being translated into French. These translations are indeed representative and according to Dimitris Kargiotis’ post on the Portal for the Greek language, “the hypothetical reader who will read all Greek works that have been translated into French, will have a complete picture of our country’s literature”.
According to the data cited by D. Kargiotis, the top ten authors according to the number of their translated books, include Ritsos (“the most important Greek writer for the French public”), Kazantzakis, Vassilikos, Cavafy, Seferis, Sikelianos, Elytis, Fakinou, Zei and Roidis.
Concerning the readers’ of Greek literature profile, Kargiotis notes: “These are readers who are not necessarily specialized but are relatively cultured, with interests sufficiently wide to wish to discover the literary production of an ‘exotic’ country which they may have visited or have read about it in the press”. The press and the media in general, as well as other cultural events (book exhibitions, presentations, etc.) help shape both this audience and the literature it reads.
French translator Anne-Laure Brisac* also talks about the profile of the French reader of Greek literature in an interview given to historian and author Emilios Solomou, as part of his research into the translation of Greek literature abroad for online literature magazine Literature.gr.
Ms. Brisac followed the usual path of translators of Greek literature. She first studied ancient Greek, feel in love with it, and became familiar with the country during her frequent visits, where she realized that the translation of modern Greek texts that inspired her, made her truly enjoy the “treasures” she discovered.
Speaking about the difficulties faced a translator of Greek literature faces in France, she stresses that the most important thing is to find a publisher who will take on the project as well as receiving the necessary grant.
Speaking about the special relationship she has developed with the Greek writers she translates, she refers to Christos Chrysopoulos and their mutual appreciation and trust as well as their long-standing collaboration that made him known to the French public.
“It is a great pleasure to share texts that I love with readers who reach out to me to express their joy,” concludes Anne-Laure Brisac, sending a positive message as she notes that despite the book crisis there are still “small but brave publishers” who dare to suggest interesting contemporary Greek literature to French readers.
* Anne-Laure Brisac was born in 1962 near Paris. She studied classical philology and literature. She holds a degree from École normale supérieure and has been a high school and university professor of French, Latin and Greek. At the same time, since 1989, she has been translating books for young people from English into French. She has been translating from Greek to French since 2002, after attending a seminar at IMXA, in Thessaloniki. After 17 years of teaching, she worked as a publisher at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art for 12 years. She has been working for the National Library of France since January 2018 and is responsible for Greek literature.
Edited by: Fouli Zavitsanou.