The Unfaithful Translator (a draft) by Fawwaz Haddad
Synopsis. The story revolves around a literary translator living in Damascus who holds unusual views about the practice of translation. Disdaining slavish fidelity to the text, he regularly subjects the texts he translates to dramatic alterations, producing novels rife with lyrical and rhetorical effusions which it is widely suspected the originals had never contained. These interventions, he argues to himself, are necessary for attuning the texts to the audience he's translating for, as well as giving voice to his own experience of attunement as a reader.
Disaster strikes however when he commits a tragic “mistake”: translating a novel by a Sudanese writer, he doctors the ending—which he finds self-indulgent and shamefully defeatist—and rewrites it so that it now ends on a more patriotic note answering to the emotional needs of the contemporary Arab world. The novel wins an award, and is catapulted into the limelight; and so, unfortunately, is its unfaithful translator. Not so much through literary integrity as out of old and petty pique, he's attacked by an eminent journalist and subjected to mud-slinging throughout the Syrian media. The story that follows, which documents the struggle of the hapless translator to restore his reputation, is as much about a positive vision of the purpose of art and creativity, as it is about an anatomy and critique of intellectuals working within an authoritarian culture, and about the relationship between intellectuals and political power. It is a story whose telling brings into view the politics, the intellectual scene, and the character-types making up the texture of contemporary Syrian society.
The book was shortlisted for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. You can see the notice on the book here.
The full translation is available to view here. Thoughts about the merits and demerits of the translation are welcome.