We think of books being lost over time, as they fall out of popular taste or academic fashion. We think, in other words, of the intervention of history. But history is a by-product of geography. The fate of a book, and by extension of a literary oeuvre, depends to an alarming extent on where it is published, with books emanating from New York and London dominating the global literary scene. That’s one reason why writers and readers owe an endless debt to translators. Take the case of Borges, who might have been lost to English-speaking readers if not for a French translation that introduced his work to Europe, and thence to the anglophone world.
The ascendance of Women’s Studies in the 1980s drew attention to the fiction of Clarice Lispector (1920–77). Her work, held up by Luce Irigaray and other influential critics as an exemplary instance of écriture féminine, found its way onto university reading lists; Lispector was often, and not especially accurately, labelled