Live Today: Margaret Litvin on Sonallah Ibrahim’s ‘Ice’

You can watch Margaret Litvin’s “Tongue-Tied Internationalism: Adventures with a Soviet Setting, an Egyptian Novel, and an Indian Press” online and then, later today, join a public Zoom discussion about her talk:

The handouts to accompany the talk — part of the 2020 Boston University Lecture Series in Literary Translation — are also available online. if you prefer audio, that’s available here:

Be sure to listen before the live Zoom discussion, open to the public today at 2 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. GMT, at

The talk includes a look at not just Ibrahim’s style, but also the process of translating an Arabic novel that interleaved Russian language into English. As she says:

As a novel about being strangers in a strange land, Ice contains two sets of cultural references that are foreign to my English reader, and I decided to treat them differently. For Arabic terms relating to matters like clothing, food, music, literature, religion or politics, I tried to domesticate the text, conveying the meaning without footnotes, stealth glosses or italics (for example, ‘stuffed cabbage’ instead of ‘makdous’) except at some instances where there are non-Arabs in the scene for whom the Arab cultural realia are new and marked. For Russian and Soviet terms, by contrast, I used conspicuous transliteration, italics and explanation, marking these foreignisms nearly as heavily as Ibrahim’s Arabic text does. These strategies aim to replicate the experience of the novel’s original intended reader, who would find the Russian cultural references exotic but the Egyptian ones familiar.

Also, interestingly, Litvin talks not just about making decisions as a translator, but needing to negotiate these decisions with the publisher.