Marilyn Booth: ‘I Try To Let the Arabic Guide Me’

Nasher News recently posted a video interview with translator-scholar Marilyn Booth, conducted during this year’s Emirates LitFest:

In it, Booth was asked about the challenges of translation. While noting that the challenges changed from book to book, she said: “Creating a balance between leaving the book in the translation and, on the other hand, creating a new book in the new language. It’s always a difficult balance.”

When it comes to the particularity of expressions, she said, “Often being literal — or almost literal — is the best way to do it. So I try to let the Arabic guide me. I’m also a translator who often leaves quite a lot of Arabic in the text, and I have to come up with ways of explaining that but without being heavy about it.”

When asked about the main issues surrounding Arabic literary translation, she noted three. The first was focused on the craft of translation: “I think sometimes translators don’t pay enough attention to the artistic aspect of the work, to the author or the narrator’s voice, the voice of the book.”

The second was funding. She noted that many publishers are reluctant to take on translations, because of the additional cost. This is particularly true of languages without a dedicated translation fund. “I think there need to be new ways to fund translation,” she said, while noting, “I’m not sure what those ways are.”

When asked what she was working on, translation-wise, she mentioned her translation of Hoda Barakat’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winning Bareed al-Layl (scheduled for a February 2021 release as Voices of the Lost) and on Jokha al-Harthi’s Narinja, or Bitter Orange. An excerpt of that novel is available, in Booth’s translation, at Words Without Borders.

The Nasher News channel also has an earlier video-interview with Saudi novelist Badriya al-Bishr Australian-Lebanese chef Greg Malouf.