10 Rules and 10 Translations from Dr. Issa J. Boullata

Dr. Issa J Boullata is a Jerusalem-born Palestinian writer, literary scholar, critic, educator and translator. He started his career with a PhD in Arabic literature from London University in 1969 and went on to be a Professor of Arabic Literature at McGill University in Montreal. He introduced and translated the groundbreaking poetry anthology Modern Arab Poets, 1950-1975 (1976) and has given a number of contemporary Arab authors award-winning translations. He has also published his own novel and short stories, including the novel عائد إلى القدس and the English-language short-story collection A Retired Gentleman and Other Stories. (More of Dr. Boullata’s work below.)

From Dr. Boullata:

Ten Rules for Translation

Some translations from Arabic to English are commissioned by publishers or by interested institutions, and have therefore a sort of assured publication and remuneration. Others are ones of texts chosen by the translator, who has then to look for a publisher and negotiate terms and royalties. In all cases, my rules are the same.

(1) Translate only a text that you like and that gives you satisfaction on being published.

(2) Read the text well and, if possible, ask the author about meanings you may have missed or wanted explained.

(3) Accept the fact that cultures are different from one another, and that each has its own way of saying the same thing in possibly different words or ways.

(4) Be acquainted with the idioms and lore of both cultures by intelligent and continued readings in them.

(5) Use all kinds of dictionaries that relate to the subject of your text to be translated, and have a thesaurus at hand to consult for subtleties of word selection and choice (Roget’s is the best).

(6) Let not your first draft of a translation be your last. Write and rewrite, then rewrite again after several readings of your translation. You may often have to sleep on a translation and be later surprised by an additional inspiration for change.

(7) Consult a native-speaker about your translation, and recognize him or her as a reviewer of it, if it is a sustained consultation.

(8) Accept the suggestions of a good editor in whom you have confidence. Good editors with long experience have seen many more translated texts than you think.

(9) Don’t be surprised if your translation efforts are not recognized by critics and book-reviewers, and be thankful when they are. Translators are usually considered of less importance than the original authors they translated, but without them those authors would not be known as widely. Therefore, be conscious of your contribution and proud of it.

(10) Translation is a creative literary art: you should consider it as such and act accordingly.

-Issa J. Boullata

Rather than a partnering 10 rules, I’d like to recommend 10 translations from Dr. Boullata’s body of work.  

1) Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s The First Well: A Bethlehem Boyhood, (1995) which earned him the 1993 University of Arkansas Press Award for Translation from Arabic. Jabra’s In Search of Walid Masoud was on the list of the “best 105″ books of the 20th century, as voted by the Arab Writers Union. More: Denys Johnson-Davies remembers acclaimed Palestinian-Iraqi author Jabra Ibrahim Jabra.

2) Princesses’ Street: Baghdad Memories an autobiography by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. 

3)  Ghada Samman’s The Square Moon (1998); Boullata’s translation of this book earned him the 1997 University of Arkansas Press Award for translation. Samman is an acclaimed Lebanese author whose Beirut Nightmares was listed by the Arab Writers Union as one of the “top 105″ books.

4) Fugitive Light, by Mohammed Berrada, a Moroccan author. His The Game of Forgetting is also on the “top 105″ list.

5) The Game of Forgettingby Mohammed Berrada.

6) “A Lady Who Does Not Resemble Me,” and My City’s Ceiling is Too Tight” by Hala Shurouf, on Words Without Borders.

7) “A Stranger in His Own Icon,” by Ghassan Zaqtan, on Words Without Borders

8 ) “May Love Be Praised,” by Reem al-Lawati, on Blackbird. 

9) An excerpt from the novel In Praise of Deserting, by Khalil al-Neimi, on Banipal. 

10) Mordechai’s Moustache and his Wife’s Cats: and other stories by Mahmoud Shukair, an acclaimed Palestinian short-story writer.

More of Dr. Boullata’s work can be found on Wikipedia.

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  1. Letter from Issa J. Boullata on ‘Banipal 45: Writers from Palestine’ | Arabic Literature (in English)

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