Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Taha and Adina - Translating the Other

Taha Muhammad Ali, is a Palestinian poet born in Saffuriyya, a Galilee village that Israel bombed during the 1948 war and demolished in its wake. An autodidact (he had just four years of perfunctory village schooling), Taha has spent nearly 60 years now operating a souvenir shop near the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. At the same time, he has taught himself much of classical and contemporary Arabic literature, absorbed copious quantities of English and American poetry and prose, and evolved, slowly but with a stubbornly single-minded kind of determination, into a writer of formidable power.

Adina Hoffman describes herself as an American-born Jew who has lived in Jerusalem for much of her adult life with a sort of double identity. She met Taha just after the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, when together with her husband and another Palestinian friend they started translating Taha's works into English. Translating Taha was itself seen by Adina as an act of political protest against the atrocities.

Now she has published a book about the poet, "My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness. The book places Muhammad Ali’s life in the context of the lives of his predecessors and peers, My Happiness offers a sweeping depiction of a charged and fateful epoch. It is a work that Arabic scholar Michael Sells describes as “among the five ‘must read’ books on the Israel-Palestine tragedy.” In an era when talk of the “Clash of Civilizations” dominates, this biography offers something else entirely: a view of the people and culture of the Middle East that is rich, nuanced, and, above all else, deeply human.

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