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It also builds on the longstanding and unfortunate focus with regards to Arabic literature (and some other ‘world literatures’) on asking for sociology or for political information instead of asking for literature.Of course there’s nothing wrong with the demand for sociology in itself, but it shouldn’t be the main reason and criterion for a book being published, and too often it is.Perhaps it is like any intimate relationship (and the relationship between a translator and a text certainly is intimate!

But then as an undergraduate I got drawn into history and lit, and then into a Ph D … I did Arabic and Middle East Studies as an undergraduate degree in US in the mid-70s.

Language training was not as good then as it is now; textbooks were not as comprehensive and lively as they are now; Arabic was taught mostly as a dead language, and although I developed a true reverence for medieval classical Arabic, I’m envious of the more wholistic training that students get now.

Her work’s cerebral and image-rich; though her latest one is a departure, her novels have dealt with civil war and wounded masculinity, and there are usually very intense young men as protagonists, with a lot of quasi-madness and incipient violence. Disciples of Passion was prescient: it is a profound commentary on how people get lead into extremism.

It’s very thought-provoking, and not handled in the obvious way.

I am also extremely proud of my renderings of two of Hoda Barakat’s novels: she’s an amazing writer, very difficult to translate, but I am really happy with the way those books came out.

(Alas, they have not received the same recognition in the Anglophone world that they have in Arabic and French.) I’m hoping to do more, but we’re having trouble finding a publisher, because she’s a difficult writer so will never have a Girls of Riyadh audience.

I work very hard on this – it’s absolutely key for me.

And I think it is one of the most exciting and creative aspects of literary translation.

So of course it’s hard to find a publisher for this sort of thing.

AG: Have you translated anything that you have regretted, and if so why?

It turned out to be much more difficult than I expected, on a number of levels, such as choosing the stories.


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