Ahdaf Souief: Arabic and English Cooperate, Don’t Compete

Following Ahdaf Souief’s appearance at the Dubai literary festival this past week, a somewhat jumbled collection of (her) quotes was published in the Gulf News.

Souief is a writer (Map of Love), translator (I Saw Ramallah) and organizer (Palestinian Literary Festival), and is also the next writer scheduled to appear in the AUC translators’ series.

You can certainly peruse the quotes yourself; I wish it was more clear about why she feels the need to be “very careful”:

“I’m very careful where I use Arabic words [when writing in English]; there must be a reason for it; like when I used Tarboush instead of Fez which has a negative connotation with it.”

I certainly don’t advocate throwing in Arabic terms for “flavor”—indeed, I find the insertion of isha’allah generally unnecessary and irritating—but would like to know more about when and why she would (or wouldn’t) weave the languages together.

Translator Humphrey Davies once told me about the difficulty of translating the word gouza, a sort of working-class sheesha. I noted that R. Neil Hewison, in his translation of Wedding Night, had simply rendered it as gouza. I found the word gouza enters and leaves (my) reader’s consciousness much more easily than “water pipe” or “hand-held water pipe,” which seems to require more mental gymnastics.

And, about the two languages, Souief said:

“I have two first languages and I’m most comfortable when I can use both at the same time,” she said. “They don’t compete, they really cooperate — I’ve always had two homes after all.”

Souief will appear at the AUC’s downtown campus (Oriental Hall) on April 28.