The Politics of Fiction and Translation: A Kurdish Literary Translator’s Journey
Kurdish has lived on the margins of the more dominant languages in the Middle East. What’s more, Kurdish culture and language have often been repressed by the region’s superpowers; and more often than not the Kurds have been persecuted by others. In such a context, it is difficult for Kurdish writers to turn their lens onto local Kurdish issues and rulers, and probe Kurds’ own role in their modern history. This is what Bachtyar Ali has repeatedly sought to do in his novels, including in The Last Pomegranate Tree. In the novel, the narrator, a former political prisoner who spent 21 years in a desert prison in Saddam’s Iraq, goes on an odyssey to find his missing son. The journey takes him to not one, but three, young men, through whose stories he meditates on fatherhood as well as the new, corrupt world Kurdish leaders created when they came to power.
Kareem Abdulrahman’s talk is dedicated to discussing the novel, but also his journey in literary translation, which, like most activities Kurds undertake, could potentially become a political act. He will probe questions such as: Where do the politics of publishing and those of the Middle East collide? Is literary translation a means to put the Kurds, the largest minority group without their own nation state, on the world’s cultural map? In this sense, is a translator also an activist? What unique challenges do translators of Kurdish texts face?
Kareem Abdulrahman is a translator and Kurdish affairs analyst. He obtained his MA in Journalism from the University of Westminster in 2005. From 2006 to 2014, he worked as a Kurdish media and political analyst for the BBC, where translation was part of his job. In 2013, he was awarded a place in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s prestigious mentorship program. He translated prominent Iraqi Kurdish novelist Bachtyar Ali’s I Stared at the Night of the City into English (UK; Periscope; 2016), making it the first Kurdish novel to be translated into English. His latest translation is Ali’s The Last Pomegranate Tree (USA; Archipelago Books; 2023). He is also the Head of Editorial at Insight, a political analysis service focusing on Iraq and Kurdish affairs. He lives in London.
Sponsored by: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Department of Germanic Studies, Program in Comparative Literature, Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, Center for European Studies