amos-oz

My week began with the stranger who walked into the local hairdresser’s where I was sitting and asked if the car parked further along the road was mine. It was. “Well, I’ve caused some damage to the windscreen,” he informed me. In the process of cutting branches off a tree in his garden one of them had fallen right onto my windscreen, smashing it, then bounced onto the bonnet, causing further damage. The result: three days at the garage and several thousand shekels of damage.

I had a very full programme that week, with activities in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, so that it was necessary to resort to public transport, lifts from friends and my husband, and even the occasional taxi. Until recently, Mevasseret Zion, where I live, was on the route between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv but recent changes to the road system means that we are now cut off from the highway. The bus route that used to go directly to and from Tel-Aviv from Mevasseret is now limited to a couple of hours in the morning, and vice versa in the evening. Oh well, such is life. I managed to get the bus to Tel-Aviv, but wasn’t so lucky on the way back, which meant changing buses, catching the shuttle-bus and calling my husband to collect me from the distant bus-stop.

But the reward for all this inconvenience was being able to attend the conference of the Israel Translators Association, with its plethora of fascinating lectures and the chance to meet up with old friends and colleagues. After all, translators are generally ensconced in their homes with their computers, and in this day and age one doesn’t even need to venture outside to go to a library to consult a book or to go to the post office to send off a completed text. Thus,  an opportunity to meet up with other translators is very much appreciated.

The Conference had many interesting lectures on offer. I was particularly intrigued by the title of Dr. Basilius Bawardi’s talk, ‘How Did Sherlock Holmes Build a Nation? The Cultural Translation of Nasib al-Mashalani into Arabic at the Turn of the 20th Century,’ and found myself plunged into Egyptian society in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the aforementioned Nasib al-Mashalani (about whom very little is known) took it upon himself to translate works by Conan Doyle into Arabic. He did not always acknowledge his source, sometimes presenting the stories (when they did not involve Sherlock Holmes) as his own. According to Dr. Bawardi, the translator’s objective was to disseminate the concepts of law and order, adherence to norms of morality and respect for the police. Apparently, in his translations of the Sherlock Holmes stories the police are regarded as purveyors of justice rather than being the corrupt and bribable element they constituted in Egypt at that time (or the inept force depicted by Conan Doyle). In an aside at the end of the lecture Dr. Bawardi mentioned the mind-boggling fact that al-Mashalani had begun his career by translating the books of Enid Blyton.

Anothere fascinating lecture was given by Inbal Saggiv-Nakdimon and concerned the problems encountered by translators of science fiction and fantasy into Hebrew. As well as having to invent terms for concepts and objects which appear in these kinds of texts, there is the additional issue of consistency for such terminology within a series, for example when a later volume is published at a different time and is given to a different translator. In addition, across the genre different terms may be used by different translators for similar concepts or objects. The presence in the audience of other translators in that genre gave rise to a lively discussion about the different words used for the concept of ‘telekinesis,’ regarding which it transpired that there is as yet no accepted term in Hebrew.

The highlight of the conference was the final lecture, given by the acclaimed Israeli writer, Amos Oz, about the translation of his books. As well as writing novels which are known for the richness of their characterization and beautiful Hebrew prose, Oz possesses the gift of being able to speak clearly, concisely and in an engaging way. Thus, he held the audience captive with his account of the way he and Nicholas de Lange worked together on translating his first novel, My Michael, into English, some fifty years ago. He admitted that his ability to monitor translations of his work into Korean or Japanese is limited, but he asks those translators to read him a passage or a page out loud in order to gauge whether they have accurately captured the ‘music’ of his prose.

Amos Oz also spoke about his approach to the writing process. It was interesting and inspiring to hear how he starts each day at 4 a.m., when he goes out to walk in nature, and it is this communing with the natural world that gives him his perspective on life and the universe. He contends that this enables him to utilize his own natural empathy and curiosity about people to imagine himself in their place in various situations.

The insights, intellectual stimulation and social interaction that I experienced that day filled me with joy, providing a delightful contrast to the rather dismal beginning of the week.

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