Writer and translator Walid Suleiman: The Arab memory did not do justice to Gazelle Halimi… and there is great chaos in the translation market | culture

Paris- Imitating the legendary phoenix, in order to fly on multiple wings between translation, publishing, story, film criticism, script writing and theater writing, Tunisian writer and translator Walid Suleiman tries to hide under more than one literary hat to hunt down the queen of inspiration in various forms of creativity.

Despite his young age of 47, Suleiman succeeded in stealing the fragrance of inspiration and achieving success and distinction through many of the books he wrote and translated. He issued two short story collections in the story, the first entitled “Einstein’s Last Hour”, and the second entitled “Funny Nightmares”.

And because he has specialized in literary translation from Spanish, English and French since 1987. Walid Suleiman was credited with opening the Arab reader to several cultures, languages ​​and distinguished writers translating for the first time into the language of Dhad, similar to the precedent he achieved in 2012 in translating the great Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov through His novel, tagged with “My Dear Friend of the Late,” is the first translation of this writer into the Arabic language.

The great Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner for literature Mario Vargas Llosa also translated from Spanish through his book “Eros in the Novel”, and from French translated the novel “Robin’s Memory” by the well-known French writer Luis de Miranda.

As for his translation of the novel “The Marjomah” by Iranian writer Fereydoun Sahibgam, it was a remarkable success for the Arab reader, especially since this novel was translated into more than 30 languages ​​and turned into a successful Iranian movie in 2008.

In poetry, Suleiman translated “Poetic Anthology” by poet Attia Bousbaa from Cultural Affairs publications in 2010, and translated in the same year and from the same house the book “The Scarlet Badge: Selections from the Poetry of the Red Indians.”

He is a practicing film critic, former president of the Tunisian Association for the Advancement of Film Criticism, and a screenwriter who has contributed to writing many film scripts.

Walid Suleiman published a short time ago in “Dar Al-Kitab” in Tunisia, his translation of the book “Fierce Freedom” by the Tunisian-French activist and lawyer Giselle Halimi and the distinguished writer Annick Koujan.

It is a biography in the form of a lengthy dialogue with Halimi, who spent more than half a century of her life defending just causes and in support of the oppressed, and contributed greatly to the defense of Tunisian and Algerian militants during French colonialism. She used her position in UNESCO to defend the Palestinian cause.

Al Jazeera Net had this dialogue with the writer and translator Walid Suleiman, who delved into the details and mysteries of this translation of Halimi’s last book, and also touched on issues of literature, translation and dialogue with the other, and opened up about the characteristics of Ukrainian culture and literature and its relationship with its Russian counterpart and its position in Eastern Europe. To the dialogue:

  • What are the subjective and objective circumstances that motivated you to translate the book “Fierce Freedom” by the Tunisian-French activist Giselle Halimi and the writer Annick Koujan?

The truth is that translating Gisele Halimi’s works into Arabic has been a dream that I had for years, but circumstances did not allow this dream to come true due to the difficulty of obtaining the rights to her works. But last summer, the person responsible for foreign rights at the famous French Grasse publishing house called me and informed me that they were going to publish a book called Une farouche liberté by the famous lawyer and activist Gazelle Halimi together with the respected journalist Annick Kogan. The book could interest me for translation into Arabic.

The Novel “The Marjom” by Iranian writer Fereydoun Sahibgam (Al Jazeera)

Indeed, as soon as I read this work, I immediately decided to translate it into Arabic. The translation was supposed to be issued by Walidov Publications, which I manage, but when my friend Habib Al-Zoghbi, the director of Dar Al-Kitab, expressed to me his desire to publish the work with other works by Gisele Halimi, we agreed that I would translate the work and his house would publish it, which is what Then it happened. Thus, the first translation into Arabic of the works of Giselle Halimi was issued. Unfortunately, a few months after her death, she was unable to see her works in Arabic.

  • What lessons and human lessons can the Arab reader draw from the life and biography of this fierce fighter?

This is an important book that should be programmed into educational curricula, especially in the Arab world, and in third world countries that suffered from colonialism and were and still are struggling for liberation and giving women the status they deserve. Giselle Halimi’s life contains many lessons and lessons and can light the way for new generations who need high ideals.

From the streets of poor, colonial Tunisia to Paris, this brave and stubborn woman was able to impose herself and reserve a prominent place for her in Paris. As journalist Annick Kogan puts it, “She resisted all the time, convinced that justice was the issue of her life, and that her profession as a lawyer, which she engaged in with a near-mystical commitment, would enable her to change the world. Law was her instrument, rebellion her trademark, and words, which Volunteer eloquently, her chief ally… she is rebellious, passionate, tireless. And free, fiercely free.”

  • Do you think that the contemporary Arab memory, and the new generations, did justice to the fighter Giselle Halimi, who spent more than half a century of her life defending the Algerian, Tunisian and Palestinian revolutionaries, and advocating just Arab causes?

Unfortunately, Gazelle Halimi has not been fair in the Arab world at all despite everything she has done and despite her unconditional advocacy for most of the just causes of the Arab world, and this also applies to her country Tunisia, were it not for some special initiatives here and there, we would have said that there is an intention to ignore them.

Is this out of ignorance or that it is intended? I don’t have a convincing answer. In fact, one of the reasons that prompted me to translate her book “Fierce Freedom” is that this condensed book is the best summary of her rich career and can be an introduction to her life and work for anyone who wants to know it.

  • Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa says, “In every novel, the form – that is, the style in which you write and the order of appearance of the events narrated – is what determines the richness or poverty, and the depth or banality of its story.” From start to finish?

Form is very important in narrative writing, but this form must be closely related to the content, or else the writing will be emptied of its content and turned into a mere linguistic absurd.

For this reason, writing requires me a long time, especially in the stage of fermentation of work in the mind, which is very similar to the stage of pregnancy in a woman. It is a stage in which the work grows in its embryonic form and takes on a clear and distinct form. But the most important stage for me remains the stage of rewriting, which makes the narration process as close as possible to sculpting with words. It is the stage in which the form is in harmony with the content and the writer’s own style appears, which distinguishes him from other writers.

  • Can we apply the logic of Mario Vargas Llosa, who says that “the writer does not choose his subjects, but the subjects choose him”, to translation and say by analogy that “the translator does not choose his translations, but the translations choose him”? How do you choose the books to translate and how do you deal with them, tell us about your secret room for translation?

I believe that every serious translator should have a well-defined work program and translation project that distinguishes him from other translators and makes his career meaningful. Personally, the first thing I do is make a long list of important works that interest me and that I think the Arabic library needs.

Then comes the sifting process, which is subject to a number of considerations: there are books that turn out to be already translated into Arabic, and others whose translation rights cannot be obtained for some reason, and other books that require finding funding or support that takes a relatively long time, and the rest of the list I program To publish within a strict schedule.

It is noticeable here that most Arab publishing houses are afraid of translating and publishing foreign names that are not dedicated and that the Arab reader has not yet recognized. While the main role of the literary translator is to introduce important new writers and open new windows to foreign literatures.

  • Is it true that the Arabs today lack a renaissance translation project that takes care of translation as a tool for knowledge, culture, and civilized dialogue with the other?

Every day I am more sure of the correctness of this saying. The complete absence of any clear strategy or action plan at the Arab level remains the distinguishing feature of translation in our region. Although there are many important projects in some Arab countries, the absence of integration between Arab countries makes the benefits of these projects limited. Perhaps the most prominent example here is the large amount of translated books that Egypt produces at reasonable prices, but these books do not reach the rest of the Arab countries, which limits their impact.

That is why I have always called for the establishment of an Arab translation agency or center that would serve as a link between translators, publishing houses, literary agents and others involved in the translation sector. And the renaissance.

  • Your mastery of the Spanish language made you immerse yourself in Latin American literature, reading and translating, and open up to remarkable experiences. What are the characteristics and peculiarities of this literature that made it spread rapidly in the world? How can Arabic literature benefit from the advantages of this literature to achieve universality?

Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, Latin America turned into a bright spot in world literature and an incubator for outstanding literary talents, according to the testimony of the Europeans and Americans themselves, whose cultural centrality usually prevents them from recognizing the superiority of other cultures.

This is what made man’s diving into this literature an urgent necessity, not a luxury. In fact, one of the reasons that prompted me to learn Spanish was my desire to see the writings of Spanish and South American writers.

As for the second part of your question, I think that the best way to allow Arabic literature to benefit from Latin American literature is through translation.

But this translation must be conscious and based on correct foundations, and this is the opposite of what is happening now. There is great chaos and the selection of translated works is not without randomness. The list of masterpieces of Latin American literature that have not yet been translated into Arabic is long, which deprives the Arab reader of familiarity with the diversity of this literature.

Writer and translator Walid Suleiman, accompanied by the great Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov, France, Abdel Majid Daqneesh, the communication sites
Writer and translator Walid Suleiman (left) accompanied by the great Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov (Al Jazeera)
  • You were a pioneer in translating the well-known Ukrainian writer Andrei Kurkov into the language of Dhad in 2012, through his novel “Dear Friend of the Late”. What are the artistic stimuli and creative features of this novel and for this writer who made you take the risk of translating it for the first time into Arabic, and why did this experience not continue?

Time has proven that my choice of Korkov to translate his first work into Arabic was successful. Every literary work I translate is the fruit of a love story with the book.

For me, translation is a conscious love story. Of course, I will be happy to translate other works by Kurkov, and I hope that this will materialize soon. There is a preliminary agreement with an Arab publishing house to translate other works of his, and we are now in the stage of negotiating the rights of translation.

  • You have a good knowledge of Ukrainian literature and culture because you are married to a Ukrainian and lived there for a while. Tell us about the characteristics of this literature and about Ukrainian culture and its location in Eastern Europe?

I think the answer to this question needs a full thesis. But I will try to make it short. Contemporary Ukrainian literature seeks to break out of the coat of arms of Russian literature, in the words of the great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, born near Poltava, in present-day Ukraine. Thus, the Ukrainian language became a tool to break the dominance of the Russian language, which was imposed on all the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Currently, there are many distinguished Ukrainian writers, such as: Oksana Zabojko, Yuri Vynychuk, Taras Prokhasko, Yuri Andrukhovich and Volodymyr Dibrova, but Andrei Kurkov remains the most famous and widespread in the world. In fact, my translation of his first work into Arabic years ago contributed to introducing him to the Arab reader.