Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tahar Ben Jelloun on Translation

Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Moroccan poet and writer and one of North Africa’s most successful post-colonial writers. Winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, Ben Jelloun moved at eighteen from Fez to Tangier where he attended a French high school until enrolling at the Universite Mohammed V in Rabat in 1963. It was at the university where Ben Jelloun’s writing career began. Exposed to the journal Soufflés (Breaths ) as well as the journal’s founder, poet Abdellatif Laabi, Ben Jelloun completed his first poems, publishing his first collection, Hommes Sous Linceul de Silence , in 1971. After completing his Philosophy studies in Rabat, in 1971, Ben Jelloun immigrated to France. In France, he attended the Universite de Paris, receiving his Ph.D. in psychiatric social work in 1975. Along with providing material for his dissertation, La Plus Haute des Solitudes, Ben Jelloun draws upon his experience as a psychotherapist for his creative writing. His second novel, La Reclusion Solitaire (later Solitaire ), is a fictionalized account of some of his patients’ dysfunction which was written in 1976. Between 1976-1987 Ben Jelloun was regularly published and received awards, but it was not until his novel L’Enfant de Sable, (later translated as The Sand Child ) that he became well-known and recognized, with all of his novels since The Sand Child being translated into English. The sequel to L’Enfant de Sable , La Nuit Sacree or The Sacred Night is the work for which he received his most notable award, the Prix Goncourt in 1987. He lives in Paris.

From an interview by Morocco Board:

Q. You write in French but your books have been translated into many languages. What do you see as the challenges of publishing your work in translation? What is the relationship between author and translator when re-creating a text in another language?

A. Writing in a language that is not my mother tongue occasionally produces phrases or even turns of thought which are unusual in French. Some of my translators, particularly those from Nordic countries, often ask me to make clear how my characters are related. Others, like the Japanese, ask me to translate some Arabic words or specify the location of certain geographical places. In general, those familiar with North Africa and the Mediterranean do not ask me many questions. The only translation I can read and correct is the Arabic, when it is not one pirated by Syrian publishers.

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