On Translating a Departure in Tunisian Feminist Writing in Arabic

Ali Znaidi’s translation of Houyem Ferchichi’s short story “Or’s A’Dib” (“The Wolf’s Wedding”) appears this month, in issue 34 of the Australian journal The Lifted Brow. Znaidi, a poet and translator, shares 

Ferchichi, a Tunisian literary journalist and short-story writer, has published her short stories and poems in numerous Tunisian and Arab literary magazines. She is the author of several short story collections, including The Scene and the Shadow, and Secret Tattoos, and has won both the Tunisian CREDIF Prize and Almothaqaf Shield for Culture, Literature, and Arts.

“The Wolf’s Wedding” originally appeared in Almothaqaf in 2014 and was reprinted in Adab Fan in 2015.

Znaidi shared his translator’s note, in which he writes that “Ferchichi has a fondness for short stories, which she often enriches with poetry, drawing, and cinema. She gives her fictional characters her confusion and existential questions, and explores her relationship with places and the way they live on in memory and are transformed by it.”

Znaidi continues:

Her work departs from both Arabic and Tunisian feminist writing traditions in her choice not to write about isolation and fear of patriarchal society. Instead, her female characters have the courage to intrude into the realm of males. She gives us character studies that express social and political concerns in a unique style and have an intimate engagement with place.

What strikes me in this story is the way Ferchichi incorporates Tunisian ancestral traditions and folktales, exemplified in the folkloric name of “Or’s A’Dib” or “The Wolf’s Wedding”, an expression used to denote a sun shower. Shifting between the present and the past, the story is a work of erasure and collage, and a mixture of fiction and metafiction. This startling mélange works to highlight the role of memory both in real life and in crafting fiction. It also exemplifies the central dichotomy around which Ferchichi’s work revolves, that of reality/dreams.

An interesting part of this story is the deception at its heart: we think we are reading about a typical wedding, but instead it is a farce, a trap laid for the wolf man to put an end to his wolfish ways, his wickedness. The sun shower reference early on hints at trickery: You think rain is falling, but, in fact, there are only a few raindrops glittering with colours, while the sun is still shining.

When translating this story, I sought to capture Ferchichi’s play on these dichotomies. I also wanted to capture the story’s intricate flow. I have done my best to show the uniqueness of Ferchichi’s story and her style, exemplified in her rich diction and the dancing words she uses to evoke joy, something like the children who stamp the ground to express their mirth.

Ali Znaidi recently released a chapbook, Austere Lights, which can be downloaded free or ordered in print.

It was published by Locofo Chaps, which was a project dedicated to bringing out political chapbooks — as downloadable PDFs also available as $5 print on demand — during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.