Roger Allen is the winner of the 2012 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for his translation of A Muslim Suicide by Bensalem Himmich, published by SU Press. Allen retired from his position as the Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. He is the author and translator of numerous books and articles on modern Arabic fiction, novels, and stories. Roger Allen is also a contributing editor of Banipal and a trustee of the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.
Congratulations on winning the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. Can you tell us about your general translation philosophy and how you prepare for the work of translation?
“In the case of the novels of Salim Himmich, I am not only well acquainted with the author and his works, but have previous translated two of his other novels. In fact, the author told me that he was already writing this new novel while I was in the process of finishing the translation of his previous one (published as THE POLYMATH). In the case of each novel, the preparatory phase has involved firstly reading the novel in its entirety, and, in the case of these historical novels, conducting research on the period in question (in this case, the history of Spain in the 13th century and the many dynasties scattered across the northern part of the African continent). What is most important in assessing “translation strategy” is the level of language used by the author and the most appropriate level of English style to use in the translation process–that being something that involves a number of phases before the eventual product is ready. I might suggest, in fact, that nothing has ever been translated that could not be adjusted or revised in some way after its publication.”
What did you find was the most challenging when translating A Muslim Suicide into English?
“In this case, the most difficult part of the process was the transfer of the hero’s mystical visions and thought into English, not to mention his extensive “classes” for his students in which he responds to questions about philosophy and the bases of faith. This became yet more complicated when, in Bougie, a city in North Africa, the hero comes into contact with one of Sufism’s greatest poets, Al-Shushtari, who is to become a devotee of the hero and composes and performs many odes in the hero’s honor. Sufi discourse is maximally allegorical and multi-layered, and the translation of the poetry in particular was extremely difficult.”
Do you think you successfully met those challenges? If so, what is one of your favorite moments in the translation?
“I think my favorite part comes in Book Three, where he meets al-Shushtari, the Sufi poet; chapter 4 is particularly difficult–with its quotations of the poet’s mystical verses, but I think I captured the essence of it.”
Were there phrases or concepts that simply could not be translated, either because of the language, the cultural nuance, or the style? How did you deal with that kind of material?
“In translation there will always be segments of the original text that resist translation. That is where the interpretive skills of the translator are maximally employed, and a good knowledge of both literary traditions–the source and the target–are essential if the translation process is to succeed. This is particularly so in the case of this novel. My solution to such issues in most cases was to resort to the preparation of a lengthy and elaborate glossary, so that, if they so wished, readers could enjoy (?) the experience of being mystified, or else find some kind of response to their curiosity by consulting the back of the book.”
I’ve heard people often speak of Arabic as an exceptionally poetic language. Did you find yourself thinking about the poetry of Himmich’s prose as you translated?
“I think that every language can be “poetic” if the codes of the language used raise such feelings in the mind of the reader; I don’t think that Arabic is particularly so. What I will say is that the morphological structures of Arabic are certainly conducive to rhyming, which is a part of the process of becoming :poetic.” Himmich is a master of style and of the imitation of other writers’ and eras’ styles, and I have certainly made an effort to replicate that feature of his writing genius.”
This is third time translating one of Himmich’s novels. To what extent do you think there is a consistent voice (for English-language readers) between the works? How do you stay faithful to both your own writing style and Himmich’s?
“And…as I’ll note below, there’s a fourth novel of his in translation still seeking a publisher. The novels that I have translated thus far have all been “historical” in the sense that they are about particularly prominent Muslim figures from the pre-modern era (although the latest one breaks with that pattern). Since I know him personally so well and he leaves the translation process entirely in my hands, I don’t feel that there are any residual problems of style.”
“Well, I’m glad you asked !!! I have so many projects at different stages with Syracuse UP–this Himmich that has now come out, the al-Koni aphorisms, the Zifzaf short-story collection, and the translation of Kilito’s essays (as second translator)– that I don’t think I have sent you my translation of his highly controversial novel, which I have translated as MY TORTURESS. It is about the awful process of “extraordinary rendition.” A Moroccan Muslim is arrested on suspicion of being related to a terrorist and spends six years in an unidentified prison-camp (obviously run under the aegis of the Americans). Frankly, I don’t know if people are scared of such an emotive topic, but I have been having a great deal of difficulty placing this translation. If you want to see it (in spite of the number of things I already have with you), I’ll be glad to send it up. In addition to all that, I already have from Himmich his very latest novel–not yet published. It’s going to be called A BUSINESSWOMAN. I have decided not to start translating it until I have placed MY TORTURESS somewhere…”
What are some great English translations of Arabic literature that we might pick up in the meantime?
“If you’re really interested in translations of modern Arabic literature, I’d warmly suggest subscribing to the London-based journal, BANIPAL (they have an excellent website)–the one through which the Ghobash Prize is offered. They are continually publishing extracts from longer works that might be of interest to your series. The problem that I have in identifying particular authors and works is a happy one: there’s so much being written and translated now that I have a very difficult time keeping up with it all, not least because I have officially retired!
As part of truth in advertising about BANIPAL, I have been on the prize’s jury and am a member of the boards of both the trust that runs it and of the journal itself. You might be interested in the fact that they (mostly in the person of Margaret O’Bank) now run an Arab Cultural Center in London where I gave a “master-class” on translation at the time of the Prize ceremony in February; the Center is the home to an increasingly large library of Arabic literature in translation. [www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/.”
Given your expertise in Arabic literature, do you have any advice for first-time readers of Arabic?
“I think the best advice I can give incipient readers of works of literature translated from Arabic is to approach the process with an open mind–a mind open to difference(s), and to relish the opportunity of engaging with those differences. As I have written in more than one of my essays on translation (such as my Presidential Address to the Middle East Studies Association –now published as “A Translator’s Tale,’ Presidential Address, MESA Conference [San Diego] 2010, Review of Middle East Studies Vol. 45 no. 1 (Summer 2011): 3-18), you do not read translated works of literature in order to encounter the familiar.
Obviously, any kind of familiarity with the Arabic literary tradition will be helpful as an introduction to the literary tradition in Arabic. My INTRODUCTION TO ARABIC LITERATURE [Cambridge UP, 2000] is intended to offer such access (and it’s in paperback!).”
Kim Jensen is an associate professor of English at the Community College of Baltimore County. She puts her profession to practice as the author of The Woman I Left Behind, and the collection of poems, Bread Alone. Her writing and poetry have been featured in a spread of anthologies and journals, including The Baltimore Review, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Rain Taxi Review, Al Jadid, and Imagine Peace. Jensen’s newest book The Only Thing That Matters, to be published next month, is another powerful collection of poems derived from the ideas and vocabulary of radical poet and novelist Fanny Howe and transformed into astonishing new formulations.
What is on your nightstand now?
“That’s a loaded question, considering that my iPad/Kindle is sitting on my nightstand, full of all kinds of books! In any case, the nightstand is piled high with paper texts too. Right now: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Gift by the great Persian Mystic poet, Hafiz; The Glance by Rumi, another of the most wonderful Sufi poets; a powerful novel about the Colombian civil war called The Armies by Evelio Rosero; Blood Dazzler by spoken word poet Patricia Smith. Also various books by: Mahmoud Darwish, Louise Erdrich, Anton Chekhov, Alice Munro, Wolfgang Iser, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Two more: The Gun and the Olive Branch by David Hirst and The Palestinians by Rosemary Sayigh—a must read for anyone interested in the Palestinian struggle.”
What was your favorite book as a child?
“This question digs at a mystery that has plagued me for years. Once upon a time, my family had a collection of fairytales with the most wonderful illustrations that I can still picture to this day. I used to stare at those colorful illustrations for hours. The book has since disappeared and I have often wondered what it was and who published it. I long to revisit that book with adult eyes to understand what was so mesmerizing. This is the meaning of childhood—a place full of nameless shadows that you can never quite retrieve.”
Who are your top five authors?
“I am against creating such a limited pantheon, even for fun. These kinds of short lists leave out too many names of poets, playwrights, novelists, fiction writers, philosophers, and theorists who have had a massive impact at various places and times. It’s not fair or even a healthy way of understanding the way literature and poetry move in and out of our lives, arriving, staying, receding, sometimes returning, sometimes not. Great as they are, why should Balzac or Tolstoy or Flaubert be on the list (for me), but not Richard Wright or Mahmoud Darwish? Why should Darwish be on the list, but not Simone Weil? Why should Shakespeare be on the list, but not Achebe, Rumi, Marx, Sophocles, Nietzsche, or Oscar Wilde? And where would Toni Morrison’s Beloved go? Or The Great Gatsby? Or Hemingway? Alice Munro and Louise Erdrich? Or Marquez? And that’s just to name the famous ones, not to mention the unsung poets of the trenches, bars, and streets. Or authors who have written single-hit masterpieces, but who never get to make it into these kinds of “best-of” compilations. Impossible. Is there a place for Emily Dickinson? August Wilson? Raymond Carver? June Jordan? This could go on and on.
So as not to disappoint, I will say this: if I had to put one author at the very tippy top of my own teetering pyramid, it would be Chekhov. His short stories are perfection. Untouchable. The sublime meeting of insight, technique, and compassion make Chekhov unmatched—for me.”
What book have you faked reading?
“I don’t claim to have read books that I haven’t read; however, I may nod with a kind of mock confidence when their names come up in conversation. I’ve never finished Orientalism by Edward Said, but I refer to its ideas without having read more than a few chapters.”
What book are you an evangelist for?
“Before Jennifer Egan won her big Pulitzer Prize last year for A Visit From the Good Squad and rendered all of my evangelizing obsolete, I used to get on the Egan pulpit. I am personally responsible for any number of converts. Four years ago, a friend of mine bought Look at Me for my daughter. I borrowed it and gobbled it up, astonished at Egan’s huge talent.”
Have you ever bought a book for its cover? Which one?
“I have not. For someone who loves reading as much as I do, I find bookstores overwhelming and even depressing at times, especially the big, corporate stores. There is a wonderful radical bookstore in Baltimore called Red Emma’s in which I have the opposite experience—very enlivening. Yet, I still don’t buy a book for its cover, even there. When I step into a book store, it’s usually to buy something I already have on my mind. If it is an impulse purchase, it will be something that I have read a review of, or a classic text that I should finally read, so I can stop just nodding knowingly and get into the conversation!”
What book changed your life?
“The five experimental novels by Fanny Howe that are now compiled one book now called Radical Love (Night Boat Books, 2005) had a huge impact on my life. These are experimental and poetic novels for adventurous readers who are also spiritual seekers. My new collection of poetry (The Only Thing that Matters) is based on my study of her poetry. Readers can read a recent interview that I conducted with Fanny Howe for Bomb Magazine.”
What is your favorite line from a book?
“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.”
What book do you most want to read again for the first time?
“That anonymous book of fairytales with the exquisite drawings that was lost to time and entered the realm of personal myth. I wish I could start all over with that one!”
Kim Jensen’s The Only Thing That Matters makes a great addition to your National Poetry Month reading list. To learn more about this title or pre-order now visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Questions from the popular Shelf Awareness Book Brahmin series.
Book: “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture
Sinéad Moynihan is a lecturer in twentieth-century literature at the University of Exeter. In addition to several book chapters and articles, she is the author of Passing into the Present: Contemporary American Fiction of Racial and Gender Passing. After awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust in 2007, Moynihan started writing her newest Syracuse University Press title, to be published this April, “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture.
Tell us about “Other People’s Diasporas.”
“Other People’s Diasporas” is concerned with Irish and Irish-American cultural production in the context of unprecedented in-migration to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger. How did Irish writers, filmmakers, dramatists and stand-up comics confront Ireland’s changed demographics in their work? I argue that they did so by mediating these contemporary concerns about Ireland through narratives that (re)imagined Irish diasporic experience in the United States. For example, Joseph O’Connor wrote a novel about emigration to New York during the Great Famine at precisely the moment when immigration into Ireland was at its peak. How are we to interpret this gesture? The book is divided into five chapters, two on contemporary Irish writers (Joseph O’Connor and Roddy Doyle), one on Irish and Irish-American drama (Donal O’Kelly and Ronan Noone), one on stand-up comedy (Des Bishop) and one on Irish and Irish-American cinema (The Nephew and In America).”
Could you briefly describe the economic growth under the “Celtic Tiger?”
“From about the mid-1990s on, Ireland entered a period of unprecedented economic growth. The Irish economy expanded at a rate of about 9.4% between 1995 and 2000 and this growth continued, though not at the same rate, until 2008. The first recorded use of the expression “Celtic Tiger” was by Kevin Gardiner of Morgan Stanley in London, who drew a comparison between Ireland’s growth and the Asian “tiger” economies. This expansion had enormous consequences for Ireland: for the first time, it effectively boasted full employment, many emigrants of the 1980s and early 1990s returned to Ireland to live, property prices soared and, the issue in which I’m interested, suddenly immigration began to exceed emigration by a wide margin. The years of the “boom” or the “economic miracle” lasted until about 2008, when Ireland, like many other countries worldwide, was hit by a severe recession.”
What kind of obstacles did the new immigrants in Ireland face?
“It’s very difficult to generalise about this, since there were so many “categories” of immigrant to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years and, of course, each individual person has a wide range of experiences. There were many immigrants from EU countries. For example, the Polish – who tended to be white, Catholic and had good English, or were very willing to learn it – perhaps found Ireland more welcoming than other immigrants did, simply because, to Irish natives, they seemed less “different” or “other.” On the other hand, asylum-seekers had a very difficult time because they weren’t permitted to work while their application for asylum was being considered and they were often housed in small towns in the midlands or the west of Ireland (because this was cheaper than housing them in urban areas) . Those communities had often had few or no encounters with ethnic minorities prior to their arrival.”
“It was beneficial in any number of ways. Most practically, and in purely economic terms, many immigrants took jobs that Irish natives, more affluent than previously, were now unwilling to take. They were therefore responsible for the provision of many services, without which the economy would not have run as smoothly or as successfully. This is in line with what has happened in other economically successful countries around the world which began to attract migrants because of the availability of work. The downside to this, of course, is that as soon as there is a downturn in the economy, as has happened in Ireland, Irish natives are more likely to see immigrants as “taking” jobs that would otherwise be available for them. I try to grapple with some of these issues in the epilogue to my book.”
What did writing this book entail?
“The groundwork of this project was laid as early as 2005, when I presented a paper on Jim Sheridan’s In America at a Transatlantic Studies conference in Nottingham, where I was undertaking my Ph.D. on an unrelated subject. I read the film in the context of the referendum on Irish Citizenship of June 2004. When that referendum took place, I had only been living in England for nine months. I was so incensed by the implications of it that I went back to Ireland to vote against it, not that this did any good, since 79% of the population voted in favour of it. By the time I finished my Ph.D. and applied for postdoctoral funding, which I was awarded, I was absolutely sure that I wanted my next project to about the implications of this referendum and how questions of race and immigration were being negotiated in contemporary Irish culture. I had two years in which to complete the project, which I did. It was a straightforward book to write, partly because I was so impassioned by the subject matter and partly because I had very good access to Irish media and popular culture, through frequent visits back to Ireland and through friends and relatives who did a lot of information-gathering on my behalf.”
Can you explain the title “Other People’s Diasporas”? How did you come up with it?
“The term “Other People’s Diasporas” is taken from a quotation by sociologist Steve Garner. In the early days of researching this book, I read his book, Racism in the Irish Experience (2004), where he poses the question: “Yet what happens when other people’s diasporas converge on the homeland of a diasporic people?” What I really liked was that embedded in the term “other people’s diasporas” was the implication of a connection between both historical emigration and contemporary immigration to Ireland. I was interested in precisely this connection. In other words, how have Irish writing, cinema, stand-up comedy and so on responded to the influx of immigrants to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years? They have done so by mediating their concerns through narratives of emigration to the U.S.”
For more information on Moynihan’s engaging exploration “Other People’s Diasporas,” visit the Syracuse University Press website. It’s available for pre-order now!
Book: The Second Coming of Paisley: Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics
Richard Lawrence Jordan received his PhD in modern British history from Louisiana State University. He was awarded the 2009 Adele Dalsimer Prize for Outstanding Dissertation from the American Conference of Irish Studies and the Distinguished Dissertation Award from Louisiana State University. Jordan’s new book, The Second Coming of Paisley, provides a detailed examination of the relationship between the Reverend Ian Paisley and leaders of the militant wing of evangelical fundamentalism in the United States.
Describe the types of research you conducted for The Second Coming of Paisley?
“The research for this book was undertaken for my dissertation while at Louisiana State University, was fairly straight forward and involved the libraries and archives of Northern Ireland (Queen’s University, Belfast Central Library, Linenhall Library, Union Theological College etc.) and those in the United States. These included those of numerous universities, but most notably the Carl McIntire Collection (Special Collection, Princeton Theological Seminary), and the Mack Library and Fundamentalism File at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.”
What sort of conflict did Paisley experience over the years?
“Paisley has created a substantial amount of controversy during his career, which began shortly after embarking on his ministry in 1946. As a youthful, Calvinist and evangelical crusader in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Paisley was initially accepted by the growing fundamentalist community in Ulster. But after exposure to the militant theology of the Reverend Carl McIntire of Collingswood, New Jersey in 1951 and after contact with McIntire’s cohorts within the International Council of Christian Churches, Paisley followed their brand of separatist and antagonistic militant fundamentalism. During the 1950s and into the 1960s, Paisley attacked the liberalism and modernism that many Irish Presbyterian clerics and seminarians professed, and which was accepted by many other Irish Protestants. He also crusaded against the political and theological designs of the Irish Catholic Church and the attempts by moderates within the Ulster Unionist party to reconcile with Northern Ireland’s catholic community. During this period, Paisley formed an intimate relationship with segregationists, such as the Bob Jones family of South Carolina. After being jailed in the summer of 1966 for protests in front of the Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast, Paisley was anointed as God’s prophet and martyr in Ireland. Paisley began annual tours of the American south just as the American civil rights movement and federal policy proved effective in changing the Jim Crow laws of the American south. When the Northern Ireland civil rights movement began in the mid-1960s and demanded equal voting and economic rights for Catholics, Paisley adopted tactics that North American militants used to oppose civil rights for African Americans in the American South and became the most vocal and physical opponent to civil rights marches in Northern Ireland.”
What was Ireland’s political situation throughout Paisley’s lifetime?
“Paisley was born in 1926 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. So he never ‘arrived’ in Ireland as an immigrant, but as a young preacher on the streets of Belfast after the Second World War. The political situation in Ireland at that time was a post-war Europe overshadowed by the United States and the Cold War. Northern Ireland was firmly under control of the Ulster Unionist Party (a party that the protestant landed elite and business community dominated), but southern Ireland was in the process of converting from the Irish Free State (a Dominion of the British Crown) into the Republic of Ireland. In response, the British government made a stronger commitment to the union between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Although the catholic community in Northern Ireland was generally complacent, there was signs of growing restlessness with Unionist rule from both Catholics and the protestant working class, a new sense of assertiveness from the Irish Catholic Church and the Irish Republican Army, and in the realm of religion, the expanding ecumenical movement.”
“The religious aspect interested me more, but naturally politics has its appeal. The conflict within Protestantism and between fundamentalists and liberal/modernists is fascinating, but so is the interaction between religiosity and the political and economic situation in Ireland from the First World War through the 1960s and up until the outbreak of the Ulster ‘Troubles.’ How all these factors reacted to the infusion of Northern American militant fundamentalism and to the call for civil rights creates a great story.”
Do you have a personal connection to the topics in this book?
“There is an indirect connection between the Northern Ireland troubles and my personal life, which drew my interest long before I entered the world of academics. From the age twenty until returning to school in the late 1990s, I was in the music business, running an independent record label that specialized in Alternative and Americana. This lifestyle required many trips to the British Isles during the 1980s, and with an interest in history, I was naturally attracted to the situation in Northern Ireland.”
Are you considering writing anything else in the future?
“I am constantly doing research and writing. Currently my time has been taken up with a second manuscript on Paisley and North American militant fundamentalists and their opposition to both the American and the Northern Ireland civil rights movements. Moreover, the second book considers the interaction between both sets of militants and both groups of civil rights activists.”
The Second Coming of Paisley: Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics will be published in the next few weeks. To purchase or learn more about Richard Lawrence Jordan’s new title, visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Book: Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers
Valgene Dunham is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the College of Science at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. Dunham is the author and coauthor of numerous books and journal articles. His new Spring 2013 title Allegany to Appomattox comes out this month and is described by Author Rod Whitlock as “.. a meaningful and memorable contribution to the historical genre of Civil War letters literature.”
Allegany to Appomattox:
“On September 7, 1864, William Whitlock, age thirty-five, left his wife and four children in Allegany, New York, to join the union army in battle. More than 100 years later his unpublished letters to his wife were found in the attic of a family home. These letters serve as the foundation for Allegany to Appomattox, giving readers a vivid glimpse into the environment and political atmosphere that surrounded the Civil War from the perspective of a northern farmer and lumberman. Topics introduced by the letters are expanded to included similar experiences by soldiers in the Confederate armies.
Whitlock’s observations and experiences tell of the exhausting marches, limited rations, and grueling combat. In plainspoken language, the letters also reveal a desperate homesickness, consistently expressing concern for the family’s health and financial situation, and requesting news from home. Detailed descriptions of the war’s progress and specific battles provide a context for Whitlock’s letters, orienting readers to both the broad narrative of the Civil War and the intimate chronicle of one soldier’s impressions.”
What led to publishing:
“After my mother died, Viola Whitlock Dunham, members of the family were going through letters and pictures that my mother had saved. My sister, Vaughn Dunham Estep, asked me if I had seen our great, great grandfather’s letters to his wife during the Civil War. After seeing and reading the 40 letters, I talked with my cousin, Mark Whitney, Allegany, New York, who had found the letters. I then corresponded with and visited Bill Potter of the American History Guild, raised in Allegany as well, who had transcribed the original letters. This group of relatives and friends encouraged me to write a book based on the letters and to tell of the legacies that William Whitlock left for his descendants.
Although interested in military history, especially World War II after an earlier visit to most of the major battle fields in France and Belgium, my ancestor’s letters stimulated not only an interest in the Civil War but also in my family’s history. Therefore, Allegany to Appomattox is quite family oriented and presents William Whitlock as a family man, just like other farmers/lumbermen from both the Union and the Confederacy, who disappeared in the smoke and fire of the War of Rebellion.”
Types of research:
“As expected by an author who had never published outside the sciences, research for Allegany to Appomattox quickly gave me an appreciation for the wide range of sources available to the historian. In addition, the value of the internet to present day authors put me in awe of the historians of the past who had to visit libraries over a wide area of the country, often at their own expense. During the organization of topics to be included, genealogical research was added to the growing diversity of sources.”
Which letters to use:
“The book was originally intended to present a picture of William Whitlock and his family as to their relationships, faith, and concerns during and related to the Civil War. I wanted to tell the story based on the language used in the letters and a “travelogue” approach to what William saw in his travel to the front and in the battles in which he fought. A picture is presented of conditions the family had to face without husband and father. The book also presents a picture of the Confederate families in similar situations. Letters were chosen to express these interests and to present them in chronological order. Letters that were used extensively were included in the book and if not, were not included in the appendices.”
“Although people of the Union and Confederacy had different causes, individuals who made their living by working with their hands in agriculture and lumbering had similar desires; including love for family, love for God and a concern for their family’s health, financial well-being and education. Large numbers of individuals of both sides did not agree with the approach to secession and war. Although the literature is now 150 years old, simple quotes from soldiers such as “My chaplain isn’t worth a darn” can be investigated by searching for the chaplain’s name and his personal history to find out his motivations, resulting in a possible explanation for a poor job performance.”
Different from other books:
“This book was the first I have written outside of publications involving plant biochemistry and DNA replication.”
Lessons to be gained:
“Every family must have a “collector.” A person who is interested enough in family history to collect and maintain family letters and pictures.
Decisions made by individuals in time of crisis are difficult and result from numerous insights and experiences. To understand these decisions requires research that must include an analysis of love for family, for country and the influence of their faith.”
For more information on Dunham’s Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers, or to pre-order, visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Craig Loomis is associate professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the American University of Kuwait. He is also author of A Softer Violence: Tales of Orient and his short fiction has been featured in the Iowa Review, Colorado Review, Quarterly West, Louisville Review, and Prague Revue. Dr. Loomis’ most recent book, The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait, comes out this March and is a unique unveiling of Kuwaiti society through a collection of stories.
Tell us about your upcoming book, The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait?
“For the last eight years I have been living and working in Kuwait, at the American University of Kuwait, and during this time I have been fortunate enough to have published many of the short stories that you will find in The Salmiya Collection in a national magazine here in Kuwait entitled Bazaar. Bazaar is a monthly publication that offers readers a myriad of articles about Kuwait, its culture, society and people. I see The Salmiya Collection as a bundle of mini-stories–call them snapshots–of, as the title implies, the ebb and flow of life in the State of Kuwait. Of course many characters and situations are involved in my Salmiya life-tide, and to that end, I have attempted to give readers bits and pieces of humanity at work in the gulf region.”
What aspect of the Kuwait culture inspired you the most during the writing process of your book?
“You have to remember that Kuwait is a relatively young nation, gaining its independence from Britain in 1961; and like so many of the countries in this region, Kuwait, too,–in its own Kuwaiti way—is struggling to define itself, and to decide how that definition measures up to other cultures on the planet. Again, not unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Kuwait, too, finds itself doing a cultural juggling act, as it seeks to find a healthy social and cultural balance between that which is Kuwaiti and that which is not, and then determining what is acceptable and what is not. This is a process I witness daily, and sometimes it is blatant and coarse, while at other times it is subtle and compassionate. Kuwaitis are a proud people, which can be both a boon and a bane. In my stories, I have attempted to capture this aspect of Kuwait, a work in progress.”
What was the process like in deciding on the order of each story? Is there a connection between them?
“No particular order. Or, I take that back, in the beginning I toyed with arranging the stories in a special order or sequence, but then, I gave up. I am sure readers might unravel some sort of hidden, secret structure, and if they do I hope that let me know what it is.”
“Although people can celebrate their individual countries, cultures, and heritages, the human condition does not change. Of course it goes without saying that, in many ways, an Arab can be culturally different from, say, a North American, but at the emotional and psychological core, we are, I think, made of the same stuff. We sometimes forget this because these days our world has a tendency to stress the differences, and more times than not, those differences are perceived as less than positive. The Salmiya Collection embraces this different-but-same notion.”
Who are your top five favorite authors? Did any of them inspire you to become a writer?
“It is almost impossible to answer this question. Over the years, a good many writers have influenced me. For example, to some degree, I have been mesmerized by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, and his obsession with terse, concise sentences, as well as what has become known as his “ice-berg theory” on writing; and of course I need to include Mark Twain, and his mastery of characterization. Finally, I certainly have to tip my hat to writers such as James Joyce and John Banville who were/are fearless when it comes to taking chances with language, style and structure.”
Any recommendations to readers for books to read that you have enjoyed?
“I recommend any book written by John Banville.”
Interested in learning about Kuwait, its culture, and society? Pre-order Dr. Loomis’ The Salmiya Collection, in print or ebook edition, now at the Syracuse University Press website.
The translator of The Emperor Tea Garden, Robert Finn, is not only known for his books and translations, but for his previous title as the US ambassador to Afghanistan. From March 2002 to August 2003, he served as the first ambassador in over twenty years. He currently is a nonresident fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute, a principal investigator for the Century Foundation Task Force on Pakistan, and a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Finn is the author of The Early Turkish Novel and translator of Nazli Eray’s Orpheus and Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House (shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize). His newest Turkish translation by Nazli Eray will be published by Syracuse University Press this spring.
Could you tell us about The Emperor Tea Garden?
“The Emperor Tea Garden is a delightful fantasy novel about love. It takes place in several different locations in this world and the dream world, in the minds of lovers and in the shadows of the soul. Characters transcend time, space, gender and place as the narrator lives in and through several different realities. From the women men see in their minds in a tavern on the Black Sea to the lovers lips hovering in the night in the Emperor Tea Garden itself, the author takes the reader on an exploratory trip through the world of the mind and he heart. Funny, surprising and very down to earth, Nazli Eray’s novel catches the reader at every turn. Autobiographical in parts, surreal in others, The Emperor Tea Garden is a magical tour de force that carries us with it into ways of thinking and being beyond the imagination. The reader will be touched and fascinated.”
What made you want to translate this book?
“The novel has always been one of my favorites of Nazli’s works, and one of her own favorites. We both thought it would be an approachable novel for the English-speaking reader and a wonderful introduction into a world that is quite different than conventional portrayals of Turkey, or reality, for that matter.”
Could you describe the process of translating this book?
“The process of translating is different with every book and every character. In the case of Nazli Eray, I find that her prose, because it is so fresh and enjoyable, lends itself easily to translation into English. I simply work page to page, not doing too much at a time, to make sure I keep the freshness of her prose in the English text. Then I do revisions and re-readings to fine tune the translation. I usually have one or two questions about details for Nazli, who knows English quite well.”
How did you preserve the meaning and keep the voice of the writer while translating the book?
“It is not difficult to keep Nazli’s meaning and voice faithful to the original, because her Turkish is very clear and open. Sometimes I hesitate over a particular word or phrase that has layers of meaning, but usually I can find the right phrase to convey her intent easily. Since the book is narrated by one person, most of the text is in that voice, but of course there are many other characters, living and dead, who have their own personalities and sociology. I try to give each character his or her appropriate voice. Since English has separate words for many nuances that can be inherent in one word or a few words in Turkish, I utilize that richness of vocabulary to distinguish individual characters.”
“I do plan to continue translating. Right now, I am almost finished another novel by Orhan Pamuk and I have begun a third novel by Eray. In addition, I have a draft translation of another novel which I am editing.”
As a diplomat with a background in Turkish Studies and International Relations, what made you decide on pursuing literary translations?
“I have been translating from Turkish for decades, ever since I was a student. As a diplomat, I found that I could find time to work on translations while being very busy as a diplomat. Turkish literature is rich and interesting, but little known, especially to English readers. I want readers to be able to experience this important literature which had much to teach us about human nature and the mixing of cultures.”
Congratulations on your translation of Silent House, which was just shortlisted for the Man Booker Award! Does this recognition influence any future projects that you might take on?
“Of course I was very pleased to see Silent House be shortlisted for the Man Asian prize. I first translated part of it when it first came out back in the 1980s, before Pamuk was ever translated into English. Now I am nearly through with the draft of Cevdet Bey and Sons, Pamuk’s first novel. I intend to keep translating from Turkish in the future, including perhaps Tanpinar’s seminal work, the History of Nineteenth Century Turkish Literature.”
To learn more about Robert Finn’s translation of The Emperor Tea Garden, visit the Syracuse University Press website.