Part of a series of English language articles published in the cultural supplement of El País in 2004, 'Found In Translation' deals with translations into and from Catalan down the centuries.

American author Michael Zwerin, in 'A Case For The Balkanisation Of Practically Everyone' - his 1976 study of several minority cultures around the world – dedicates a fair part of his chapter on Catalonia to a visit he made to a Barcelona bookstore: checking out available titles in Catalan, he expected to find just a few local authors, and discovered to his amazement that a wide assortment of foreign writers, including Kerouac, Spillane, Camus and Faulkner, were available in the language of Ramon Llull. This was all the more remarkable for being at the tail end of the Franco dictatorship, when Catalan language publishers were still hounded by the regime's censors. A year later, when democracy began to take root, these same publishers took advantage of their new-found freedom to step up the number of translations, to such an extent that, nowadays, readers in the Catalan speaking parts of Spain (and France, for that matter) enjoy direct access to a tremendous range of international literature, both classic and contemporary. Indeed, according to the prestigious translator Joan Sellent, in some genres over fifty per cent of books published in Catalan are translations (compared to an average figure of 3% for translations of foreign authors into English in the UK). No wonder, then, that on occasion the Catalan language reader is able to cock a snook at his counterparts abroad, by pointing to numerous examples of major authors whose books are more readily available in Catalan than in many far larger languages. Thanks to Monika Zgustova's exceptionally sensitive translations, for example, the work of Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal is easier to find in Barcelona's Casa del Llibre than it is in London's Foyles. More recently, 'Necropolis', an important novel by Slovenian Holocaust survivor Boris Pahor was published in Catalan. Curious English language readers, however, will search for it in vain on Amazon.

Literary translation into Catalan, it should be added, is not a recent development, having started in earnest in the 14th century, when the chancellery of the Catalano-Aragonese Federation began to encourage the translation of Latin works by Petrarch, Seneca and Boethius, among others, into the vernacular. The following century even saw the translation of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. By then, though, the Catalan speaking areas were slipping, largely for political reasons, into what historians call the Decadence – a cultural (and economic) slump lasting three centuries, during which few translations were published in Catalan. In the nineteenth century however, Catalonia received a new lease of life in the form of a movement for cultural revival known as the 'Renaixença', which promoted, among other things, the use of Catalan for literary purposes, translations included. One result of this was the creation of 'L'Avenç', a popular collection of cut-price books, by means of which the whole of European literature – from Homer and Molière to Ibsen and Nietzsche - was squeezed into the Catalan mindset over a thirty year period. This enterprise was complemented by the more exquisite project of the Bernat Metge Foundation, which sponsored the translation of Greek and Latin classics into Catalan. All this activity, needless to say, came to an abrupt end when fascist troops entered Barcelona in 1939, and Catalan became a virtually outlawed language, so much so, that mainstream publishing in Catalan did not pick up again until the 1960s, and even then, as we have seen, was subject to the whim of the censor. Today, however, despite having to get over the hurdles of several tricky stylistic debates, translation into Catalan is a going concern, with a pool of excellent translators to draw from. Even some books originally written in Spanish – like Javier Cercas's 'Soldiers of Salamis' (2001) – have been translated successfully into Catalan, a remarkable recent phenomenon which, as far as I know, has no other parallel in Europe. Or can anyone imagine someone from Caernarvon reading Monica Ali, say, in Welsh?

ENDNOTE: Many thanks to Lea Lisjak for writing in - on 24/02/08 - with the following clarification:' Just thought you might be interested to know that the book "Nekropola" by Boris Pahor (that you mention in the article Found in Translation) appeared in English under the title "Pilgrim among the shadows" (translated by Michael Biggins, published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.)'

- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programació: Nac -