Arabic literature in translation can be a cloudy, complex mirror

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Let’s assume that you are completely and equally fluent in two languages. Someone gives you two books as a gift – one is a book you are genuinely interested in reading, while the second is an excellent translation of the same book in the other language in which you are equally fluent. Which one would you read, and why?

This hypothetical question serves as a good introduction to the rather thorny subject of translation.

A cursory look at translation studies’ books and general debates on the subject demonstrates that, first, the profession of translation has undergone several transformations and, second, these debates are anything but settled.

In relation to the foregoing question, personally, throughout the years I’ve been translating between Arabic and English, I have done all conceivable combinations – reading both original and high-quality translations of the same book in both Arabic and English.

But first, are conversations about translation even still relevant? Of course they are. As an industry, translation is expected to grow by 42 per cent between 2010 and 2020, according to the United States Bureau of Statistics.

In the UK’s substantial fiction market, translated books amounted to 5 per cent last year, marking a 96 per cent increase since the beginning of the second millennium.

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Author: Zafar Anjum

I am a writer based in Singapore.

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