GUEST BLOG – Sarah Irving, translator for The Book of Gaza, has written a post on translation, the current situation in Gaza and her experiences and thoughts as a translator. In the light of Neyrouz Qarmout, author in The Book of Gaza, not being able to come to the UK for literary festivals last weekend, as planned, the idea of Translation as Solidarity is more important than ever.
As my friend Dena observed on Twitter today, Gaza came under attack from the Israeli air force yet again today, something that seems to be turning into a bit of a summer ritual:
This year, at least, there doesn’t seem to have been the steady ramping up by the Israeli government of spurious excuses which led up to last summer’s huge and bloody bombardment. That leaves a little hope – if it is not a complete and bitter irony to call it that – that today’s air raids were the usual one-offs, ‘just’ quotidian terrorisation of a trapped population.
For those of us in the West who had the privilege of being involved with The Book of Gaza, Comma’s collection of short stories touching on that ancient, historic, much-besieged city, new aerial attacks on Gaza must have acquired new resonances. By horrible coincidence, the book came out during the first weeks of that horrible period, which ended only after two and a half thousand people – most of them civilians – had been killed, and thousands more homes, public buildings and livelihoods destroyed.
One of the unexpected results of this was, for some of the translators from the book, that we became tasked with a kind of ’emergency translation’. Some of the short story writers who had contributed to The Book of Gaza chose (or needed) to cope with the horror and fear that they were experiencing by writing – direct reportage of what they saw, or diaries, or fiction. And they wanted these writings to be translated into English, to reach wider audiences – audiences whose governments were largely responsible for supporting the State of Israel, and for supplying it with the missiles and delivery systems that were being used on Gazan civilians.
In some ways, translating is a very intimate act. To take someone else’s creative work and to try and get inside it enough to slowly draw out when you think (or believe) is their meaning, feeling and intent is to build a sort of relationship with them. To identify what that is, is likely impossible (and it’s probably entirely different for each translator); maybe one becomes a conduit; or a voice, or Spock in the middle of a Vulcan mind-meld. But it’s personal, and as in any personal relationship, it opens one up to demands and responsibilities. And the demand that came back to us from those whose work we had translated was – keep translating. We need to be heard, more now than ever.
And so, instead of the usual things I join in with when Israel starts committing its more egregious violations yet again, like marching and picketing and arguing, I shut myself away with my laptop and my dictionaries, thesaurus and notebooks, and I translated. For days, it seemed, becoming somewhat unhinged in the process, exacerbated by the occasional forays onto Twitter and the news to find that, yes, it could get worse. And each time I contacted Nayrouz Qarmout, whose stories I was translating, I sat on tenterhooks until she replied, wondering if she was okay, wondering if she would be able to reply.
I wasn’t alone, although it felt like it at the time – I was just a small part of this emergency translation corps, scribbling and typing away around the world, being ruthlessly pursued by Comma’s Ra Page as he channelled the finished texts out to publications that would take them. My contribution was two short stories by Nayrouz – My City Burning Peacefully, published by Electronic Intifada, and Umm Ahmed, Newsflash, published on PEN Atlas. Other translators turned out pieces by different authors from The Book of Gaza – Atef Abu Saif, Mona Abu Sharekh, Najlaa Ataallah and Abdullah Tayeh, whose work went to The Guardian, the Sunday Times, Guernica, the New Statesman and others.
Insh’Allah, God willing, this summer’s bombing raids won’t begin to approach the ghastly scale of last year’s slaughter. The memories – for me, although doubtless not for those who went through the real thing, and especially for those who remain homeless and jobless – have a feeling of unreality.
But I will be trying to bring them, and some of the texts from that moment, back to life next week. The Palestine Unlocked festival of Palestinian culture in Oxford has organised an event centred on The Book of Gaza and on Atef Abu Saif’s book of diaries from that time, The Drone Eats With Me, and I’ll be speaking. It seems a fitting time to recall that strange, intense period of time; I can only hope and pray that the links remain confined to the literary, and the superficial.
You can find more details of Sarah’s event in Oxford through this link here. It is on Friday 12th of June, 7.30-9pm, in the Albion Beatnik Bookshop on Walton Street.
For links and details of the coverage Comma assisted during last summer’s bombing on the strip, which is mentioned by Sarah, go to The Book of Gaza page, on the Comma Press website.