Kuwaiti novelist, public speaker, publisher, and bookseller Bothayna Al-Essa is author of more than a dozen books:
By Hend Saeed
I was lucky to be able to chat briefly with Bothayna Al-Essa, who took part in the 2019 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Her novel All That I Want to Forget was translated by Michelle Henjum and published in March 2019. You can read a long excerpt from the translation at the Hoopoe Fiction website.
How did you manage to use poetry in a romantic novel, such as All That I Want to Forget?
Bothayna Al-Essa: The poetry in my novel is by one of the characters, if not the main character. Using her poetry within the novel was a must, not a technical but a logical matter, as the narrator is a poet and she looks at the world through a poetic lens, and expresses herself from that point of view. So from this jumping-off point, I didn’t find it difficult to use poetry within the novel.
When I wrote it, I didn’t think of it as a romantic novel, because the sections about the love story were short and finished quickly. It wasn’t a story of a broken heart or unfinished love, as much as it was the story of the girl who was imprisoned in the basement and whose right to life was stolen. I consider it a social psychological novel more than a romantic one. Love plays a role in everyone’s life — so yes, there was a love story.
Your novel All That I Want to Forget was published this month in English. How did you find the process of translation and did you have any say in the translation? Would you like any of your other books to be translated?
BE: I was surprised that they chose this novel, although at the same time I understand why it was chosen, because it’s my most popular novel, and it’s about women’s struggles, and that’s what Western readers are interested in.
I haven’t received the English copies, and I haven’t read the translation, but I’m sure they did a great job. The translator’s questions showed a sensitive understanding of the narrative, and that’s very important in translation, because translation isn’t about translating word-for-word as much as it is about moving the narrative from one culture to another.
I’m looking forward to receiving my copies, to find out how they translated some of the words. Some of the questions were about particular words and what I was thinking when I used these words — the cultural value or sensitivity of using them. My answers were always yes or no as per the question and the sentence they asked me about, so I’d like to know how they translated these words, which require not only translating the word itself but the shape and sound of the letters. The translator only asked five or six questions, not that many.
I’d like Maps of Wandering to be translated.
We would as well, so also read:
An Excerpt from Bothayna al-Essa’s ‘Maps of Wandering’
From the online excerpt of All That I Want to Forget:
I can’t stop thinking. I have to turn off this crazy machine they call the mind. I jump out of bed, my fingers shaking as I open my suitcases, my fingers as frantic as I am, bony andsweaty and injured like me. I open the suitcases one after the other, tear through them, throwing things out, rummaging and raging through them, ransacking the contents. I dig myfingers deep, deep into the pockets and openings and cornersof the suitcases. I dive, searching for relief, for that damn bot- tle of pills that pulls me gently out of my reality. Alprazolam,the magical soporific, cure for epilepsy, anxiety, and depres- sion—my best friend and worst enemy, working steadily, with my blessing, toward my undoing.
Where are they, those little devils? Come, dears. Come, little ones. Come, before I run out of the room and turnmyself in to the first policeman or tissue vendor I find in thestreet. I fumble over the bottle under the cotton pajamas.Opening it with trembling fingers, I swallow a pill. I assurethe frantic being inside me that things are under control. Calm down, Fatima. You took the medicine. Read the whole excerpt.