It’s Bloomsday: Reading Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in Arabic

Among non-European languages, Omar Qaqish writes in a 2014 paper, Arabic has been one into which the writings of James Joyce have been reproduced prolifically:

ulysses3There are a number of published translations of Joyce’s short stories and novels, as well as criticism of Joyce’s work, but these books don’t represent the breadth of interest in Joyce’s work. As Amir Zaky’s recent survey of translations of Dubliners into Arabic noted, “By a fleeting search on the web, one can find some of the 15 stories in the collection translated by a number of amateurs and professionals.”

Indeed, Zaky said, “Arab translators have made great efforts to bring Joyce’s work into the Arabic.”

Moreover, those translations have been widely influential. According to Rasheed El-Enany’s Naguib Mahfouz: The Pursuit of Meaning, Egypt’s Nobel literature laureate said of his characters’ internal monologes: “All that happens is that I sometimes encounter a Joycean moment in my hero’s life, so I render it in Joyce’s manner with some modification.”

Although translations of other works by Joyce began appearing in the 1940s, the first complete translation of Ulysses, by Taha Mahmoud Taha, wasn’t published until 1982. Although there have been criticisms of this translation, scholar Omar Qaqish challenges “the criticism that Taha’s translation is too literal, a claim frequently cited as the impetus necessitating the second (and the third, still absent) translation.”

Iraqi poet Salah Niazi, who has also translated Macbeth and Hamlet, was critical of Taha’s translation, although those criticism didn’t figure in a recent interview with Channel 4 about why he started his own translation of Ulysses in 1984. Niazi published a first volume of his translation in 2001, a second in 2010 and a third in 2014.

Two Bloomsdays ago, Niazi spoke with Channel 4 about about this translation:

“I was protecting my health from the news of wars in Iraq. I couldn’t bear to watch day and night on television. Many a friend, Iraqi friends in Europe whom I knew, had heart attacks.

“So to protect my health, I said let me go and do something very difficult and forget about all the wars and killings. (…) I decided to go for Ulysses.”

 You can hear Niazi read from his translation over at the Channel 4 website.