February 27, 2015

The Little Prince goes big in Turkey


Now mandarine-flavoured

Now mandarine-flavoured

For publishers, there are certain dates that can either cause terrible anxiety or tremendous excitement. When a world is opened up, or a secret kingdom closed down. When you reign as conqueror or see your territory overrun. I’m talking about the expiration of copyright.

Copyright lasts for 70 years after the author’s death, and the copyright for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s book Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) expired in most parts of the world at the end of 2014. This means that now any publisher can print the book without having to pay the author or the estate anything for the privilege. The exception to this rule is France – because Saint-Exupéry died fighting in WWII, he is granted the special status of “Mort pour la France”. This clause honours artists who died fighting for the country with a 30 years extension of copyright.

Over on the LRB blog, Kaya Genç gives a curious and entertaining report from Turkey. The reaction by Turkish publishers to the end of The Little Prince’s copyright can only be described as wild. As Genç writes:

In the first two weeks of January, more than thirty Turkish publishers released translations of the 1943 novella. Between them they bought 130,000 bandrols, holographic stickers required for every book sold in Turkey.

In a newspaper books supplement the other week, almost half the adverts were for The Little Prince.

Since everyone was publishing the same story, you have to hand it to those publishers who tried to vary their offering:

One publisher put out a mandarine-flavoured edition. Another released three different versions, to show the differences in translation trends. There is a 3D pop-up edition. The publishing house that used to own the Turkish copyright sold the book at around £5. Leftist publishers are releasing cheap editions for £1.

Ever since it was first published in the country, The Little Prince has had an interesting place in Turkish letters. The book includes the character of a Turkish astronomer and a discussion about the astronomer’s “Turkish costume” which, in translation, became politically charged. Genç explains:

Turkish citizens were prohibited from wearing the Fez and other traditional garments in 1925. Dıranas, whose edition was republished this month, translated the sentence about the Hat Law into Turkish like this: ‘Fortunately, Turks had started dressing like Europeans afterwards, with help from a great leader.’ When Tomris Uyar and Cemal Süreya translated the book in 1995, they rendered it slightly differently: ‘A peremptory Turkish leader had issued a law one day: from now on all would be dressed as Europeans, and others sentenced to death.’

For the contemporary Turkish reader, they can now choose which translation they read and which version of Turkish history they believe. And whether it is scented with mandarine or not.


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.