September 12, 2012

Translating Iran


A subtle view of the people and history of Iran is hard to come by. This is one reason why our recent novel The Colonel by the Iranian icon, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, is so special.

An interview in Al Monitor with the Iranian-Israeli translator of The Colonel, Orly Noywho just translated the book from Persian to Hebrew offers further insight. Translation from Persian into English is exceedingly rare, and even more so into Hebrew.  Apparently, this is the first time Persian prose has been translated into Hebrew.

Noy, whose Jewish family left Iran during the upheaval, describes her slow return to the language of her childhood. She says that her desire to translate began when she did a Google search for ‘Persian literature,’ and Google’s answer was, “Do you mean Russian literature?”.  Noy says, “I was very insulted because we are talking about 6,000 years of magnificent culture and history … The Jews who came [to Israel] from Islamic countries were forced to pay a steep price: their past went up in smoke. They were forced to detach from their memories, their humor, their culture.”  She goes on,

“The translation of texts from Persian to Hebrew is my way of expressing something from both of my identities, Israeli and Iranian. At the same time I also hope to burst the big balloon called ‘Iran the menace,’ and portray my homeland as something real and alive with a past full of suffering and intrigues, politics and [vested] interests, good and evil. The Israeli reader can identify with these [themes] and, through them, also become acquainted with a different Iran.”

Others are trying a more immersive approach. In London, a group called Small Media are inviting people to an event called 403 Forbidden, which transforms their office into a space where one can feel of how it is to be oppressed by internet censorship in Iran. (Thanks to Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing for highlighting this.)

The event features Maral Pourkazemi‘s quite beautiful infographic ‘The Iranian Internet“, which “starts with general information about the Internet usage (1), goes on with the idea of a “Halal” or “national” Internet (2), shows two ways of how the Iranian user escapes the “Halal” Internet (3), a little part of the iranian Blogosphere showing what kind of blogs get filtered (4), going on with the sophisticated cyber repression (5) which is initiated by the paradox system of government (6).”

We rarely get the chance to understand even a small part of the Iran behind the headlines. To some extent, English and Hebrew translations of Persian texts is all the window we have.

“Noy invites us to become acquainted with the “other” Iranian nation, which received tragedy instead of the liberty they yearned for. In the words of Amir (in The Colonel), “we are all destroyed or will be destroyed in the future. We have begun to discover ourselves and understand our identities, thus in the future we will pay the bitter price of revenge.””



Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.