By Anita Sethi
Happy December! It is the season to be jolly, and looking back over the year’s literary calendar, a jolly good literary discipline to celebrate is translation. Indeed a number of literary events this year have reached to the heart of this very subject, from Mourid Barghouti speaking fascinatingly on the issue in connection with his beautifully written new memoir, “I was Born There, I was Born Here”(published by Bloomsbury), to a trio of Egyptian writers who also explored the issue, Khaled Al Khamissi, Ahmed Mourad, and Ahmed Khaled Towfik (published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation). Next season will also be filled with the delights of literature from all around the world.
Translation opens up to us a whole world of stories hitherto hidden. English PEN are at the heart of exciting initiatives in translation and I caught up for a chat earlier in the year with Director Jonathan Heawood who explained: “A really positive, creative way of supporting world writers is just to make sure that they’re read” - and one way of doing this with writers working in different languages is to develop and expand translations. Indeed, English PEN have recently announced the recipients of their Writers in Translation awards. The aim is to get people reading more world writing, as so much literature written in indigenous languages does not bridge the divides of geography and language due to few translations. This year also saw the 2nd International Translation Day focusing on the important art of translation in breaking down barriers.
The issue of translation is also one I’ve been thinking about having attended international literary festivals and book fairs this year including the thought-provoking British Council Erbil Literature Festival in Iraq, and Sharjah International Book Fair: at both of these, translation was crucial to communicate the ideas and stories of a range of exciting and important writers working in languages including Arabic, Kurdish, Syriac and Persian. Indeed at the Sharjah International Book Fair, a new translation grant was inaugurated to encourage the sharing of global literatures.
Of course, this is not to undermine the importance of learning new languages themselves: what a joy to read classics in the original language. As the Czech proverb goes: “Learn a new language and get a new soul”.