As Jane Austen famously--wryly--wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Mimicking Austen's syntax--and perhaps her dry irony--Motoko Rich of the New York Times writes "It is a commonly held assumption that Americans don’t like to read authors who write in languages they don’t understand."
Fortunately, as Rich notes, some Americans do read authors who write in languages they don't understand. Or, at least, some small American publishers like Boston's David R. Godine--who published Nobel Prize winner Le Clézio--put the work out there for us to read.
In her article "Translation is Foreign to U.S. Publishers," Rich cites Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who observes, quite rightly, that the "U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”
Similarly, Anne-Solange Noble, the foreign-rights director at Gallimard-- Le Clézio's French publisher--is at turns baffled and aggravated by American literary isolationism. She explains that “American publishers are depriving the American readership of the cultural diversity through translation to which they are entitled. It is what I call the poverty of the rich.”
Three cheers then for the small publishers like Godine, Dalkey Archive, Archipelago, Graywolf, Zephyr Press and Open Letter, who heroically publish works in translation, despite small budgets, poor promotion, and little attention from the American media and reading public.