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3 June 2020

Umberto Eco in other languages

Andrea Palermitano (Università degli Studi di Milano)

Translated into sixty-four countries and forty-five languages, today Umberto Eco is one of the best-known Italian writers in the world. The international diffusion of his works has taken two paths, the essay and the narrative, and two seasons: before and after the great success of In the Name of the Rose.

Minimum Diary was the first work to be published abroad, by the publisher Horizonte from Madrid in 1964. However, the book did not receive international recognition until many years later. In fact, Opera is the first title of Eco to arouse a vast interest in the world, first in Spain and France in 1965, then in Yugoslavia (1966), Brazil (1968), Portugal and Romania (1969). In the 1970s the most successful of Echo’s books was The Absent Structure, published in (1971), Germany and Poland (1972), together with the General Semiotics Treaty, published in the United States (1966), in the United Kingdom (1977) and in Japan (1980). It is therefore his semiotics studies that have circulated widely abroad, before collections such as Misreadings and Apocalittici e integrati. The Notes to the Name of the Rose were quickly translated in the wake of the novel’s success – in 1984 they already appeared in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States – while the diffusion of other non-fiction titles was more widespread in Turkey (“Seven Years of Desire” 1991), Georgia (Inventing the Enemy, 2015), Morocco (Lector in fabula, 1996) and Vietnam (How to Write a Thesis, 2010).

The narrative
The great international success of the In the Name of the Rose came in the early 1980s and the rapidity with which the translations followed testifies to the impact Eco’s first novel had on foreign publishing markets, with completely surprising results and with which, no other work from the Italian twentieth century literature can compare. The first translations came out in France, then United States, Spain and Germany (1982), followed by countries in which Eco emerged for the first time: Taiwan, Finland and the Netherlands (1983), Denmark, Iceland and Norway (1984 ), Greece and Czechoslovakia (1985), South Korea, Iran and Turkey (1986) and Israel, Hungary, the USSR, East Germany and Vietnam in the late 1980s. In this decade alone, In the Name of the Rose sold more than eight million copies abroad, placing it at the top of the book list worldwide. In the 1990s and early decades of the 21st century, new countries joined the long list: Japan, Lithuania, Tunisia (first Arabic translation), Moldova, Belarus, Czech Republic, Egypt, Albania, Libya, Latvia, Thailand, Slovakia, Indonesia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, India and Croatia. Although to a lesser extent, Eco’s subsequent narrative production also enjoyed a large success: Foucault’s pendulum was translated into thirty-five languages and thirty-nine countries, The Island of the Day Before into thirty-one languages and thirty-two countries, Baudolino into thirty languages and thirty-one countries, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana into twenty-nine languages and countries, the Prague Cemetery in thirty-four languages and countries. The speed of translations progressively increases over time, reaching the peak with Numero zero – released in nineteen countries in the same year as the Italian publication – testifying that an international interest for his works is still very much alive.

Publishers and translators
Numerous foreign publishing houses have published Eco’s books assiduously over the years, in particular the Barcelona-born Lumen, who published his first title, Apocalittici e integrati in 1968. With the success of In the Name of the Rose, Eco won the loyalty of prestigious publishing brands, such as Grasset in Paris, Hanser in Munich, Bromberg in Stockholm, Tiden in Oslo and Harcourt Brace in the USA. Among the publishing houses that have been dealing with Eco in emerging publishing markets for several decades are Can Yayınları from Istanbul and the Korean Open Book, which in 2009 dedicated a non-fiction series to the writer, entitled Eco Mania Collection. Hundreds of translators, over the decades, have measured themselves against Eco’s works. By way of example, we will mention the names of those who have contributed most to the diffusion of his books, indicating the number of translated books next to each: Burkhart Kroeber into German (34), Éfi Kallifatídi into Greek (21), Helena Lozano into Spanish (17), the duo Yond Boeke and Patty Krone into Dutch (17), Myriem Bouzaher into French (14) and Elena Kostjukovič into Russian (12).