In a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism, published over the summer, Turkish journalist and translator Ayşe Düzkan offers an anecdote: At a conference in Istanbul in 2014, she was tasked with providing a consecutive Turkish interpretation for one of the speakers, a British Marxian anthropologist. His comments centered on the Gezi Park uprisings that had captured the world’s attention just a year before. Though it was only his second visit to the city, he did not seem to recognize the irony in speaking to a Turkish audience, many of whom were directly involved in the protests, about an event in which he was not himself involved, and in a language they do not speak. Would a Turkish-speaking writer living in London be invited to comment on Occupy London, she wonders? That such a scenario seems unlikely is no coincidence. The absurd performance Düzkan observes illustrates how the politics of translation affect not only the distribution of linguistic access (so that desired information may be limited for speakers of a certain language), but also the distribution of intellectual authority (so that speakers of a certain language may be ‘taught’ their own history through an interpreter).
Transit Books is a young press—it was founded in 2015 with the aim of bringing an open-minded and international sensibility to an industry that is notorious for its insularity and resistance to the unknown. The risk of starting a new business and choosing to focus on the areas that conventional wisdom describes as the most challenging (translations, novellas, literary and narrative nonfiction) paid off for Transit Books. The fiction and nonfiction that they publish all display a powerful intimacy that perhaps is one explanation for their unlikely successes. One of their first books, Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and several others had prominent critical acclaim and sales success.