“ Much is found in Translation”: Teju Cole


“When, years later I myself became a writer and was asked, ‘Are you a Haitian writer, a Caribbean writer or a Francophone writer?’I would always answer that I took the nationality of my reader, which means that when a Japanese reader reads my books, I immediately became a Japanese writer,” said Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferriere in his novel I Am a Japanese Writer (2008), which was originally written in French and then translated to English.

These words were used by Teju Cole, the first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard, to illustrate how translations bond readers and authors. Translated works transcend the barriers of language and ethos as long as they touch the human heart. By touching deep emotions they create bonds and links to mankind. He talks of how lives are lost over refugee crisis and borders and says “literature can save a life”.

Brought up between US and Nigeria, Cole developed broad world views. Cole’s forte are novels and essays, including the much acclaimed Open City (2011) which was named ‘Best Book’ in more than twenty end-of-the year lists, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist , Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Kirkus Reviews. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book —  one of the ten top novels of the year by both Time and National Public Radio (USA).

In an article adopted from a keynote address that he gave in Germany this year, Cole linked humanitarian attitudes to literature. He spoke of how literature helps develop attitudes, quoting legendary writers like Camus. He said that if a book makes even one person change his attitude to biases or violence, it makes a difference.

Cole elaborated quoting from Jewish and Islamic scriptures: “And this ever-expanding power of a single life brings to mind a thought that has echoed through the ages. We find it for instance in a codex of the Mishnah written in Parma in the mid-thirteenth century: ‘Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.’ Exactly the same thought is expressed in Surah Five of the Qur’an.”

Read more in this article in The New York Review of Books.

 

 

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