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Monday, 09 December 2019

INTERVIEW: Never lost in translation

The president of the National Center for Translation says the NCT is expanding its operation in order to appeal to a growing taste for translations of literature, history and more

Dina Ezzat , Friday 1 Nov 2019
Anwar Mogheith
File Photo: Anwar Mogheith, the president of the National Center for Translation (NCT) (Photo: Al-Ahram)
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He is just back from Serbia where he took part in a high-level cultural delegation that represented Egypt in the Belgrade Book Fair (BBF), which convened for a week starting 20 August. Anwar Mogheith, the president of the National Center for Translation (NCT), said that he was proud of the impression that the Egyptian delegation left at that 62-year-old cultural event, and of the opportunities for future cultural cooperation between Egypt and Serbia.

“It was the first time for Egypt to be the guest of honour at the BBF and we had a big cultural presence that offered participants in this international event a good read through our rich and diverse cultural scene – ranging from books to folk art and more,” Mogheith said.

The Egyptian delegation, headed by Minister of Culture Inas Abdel Dayem, was particularly keen to give a boost to the cross-language translations of books that would be of interest to the readers at both ends.

Among the books that were offered at the BBF in translation from Arabic to Serbian is the prominent Egyptology title The Queens of Egypt by Mohamed ElDamati.

This was one of over 50 titles that were offered by both the General Authority for Books and the NCT that also included a few translations, from Serbian into Arabic, including literature, history and memoires, that were translated into Arabic.

“Unfortunately we failed to identify Egyptian, or for that matter Serbian, translators who could translate into Arabic from Serbian, so we had to do the translation through an English version,” Mogheith said.

However, during his participation in the BBF, Mogheith managed to identify a few translators who could translate from Serbian into Arabic and vice versa.

“We are keen to expand our cultural cooperation with Serbia and securing decent translations of classics and contemporary titles is necessary to serve this purpose,” Mogheith said.

According to the president of the NCT, he already identified four titles of children’s and young adult books that would be translated promptly from Serbian into Arabic.

One book is a dialogue between children and an adult, with the children asking big questions about life and an adult offering simple but clear answers; another is a simple explanation of the basic theory of physics; a third is the story of a gardener who came to appreciate the beauty of opening up his garden to animals rather than having it closed off; and a fourth, for young adults, is about the purpose of life.

“These books should be available in 2020 and I am quite confident that they will be well received given the growing interest of readers of all age brackets to be introduced to new titles that are being produced all over the world,” Mogheith.

Opening up avenues of cultural communication is something that Mogheith said the NCT is planned to expand. “This has been our mission since 2006, as we have translated books from 35 languages,” he said.

In addition to reaching out to more European countries, the NCT is planning a more intense approach towards African countries.

This year, the NCT has produced several translations of African titles into Arabic. This, Mogheith said, was part of celebrating cultural ties with Africa in 2019. The NCT produced a selection of short novels by several African writers, books on the history of African ethnicities, religion and politics. This included an abridged version of The General History of Africa in four volumes.

Translations of titles from all across Africa, including from Egypt, will be available in Arabic, English and French, at the African Cultures Conference that will convene in mid-November at the venue of the Higher Council for Culture, Mogheith said.

“President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi started this tradition for Egypt to celebrate its cultural ties upon a particular theme; the theme of this year was cultural cooperation with Africa and for next year we will be celebrating cultural cooperation with Russia,” he added.

The NCT is already working on securing translations of Egyptian and Russian titles. “We are not going to stop at producing Arabic versions of more of the well-celebrated Russian classics; we are very keen to introduce our readers to contemporary Russian literature and also social sciences,” he said.

“We appreciate the fact that the highest interest of our readers is in reading literature and we dedicate a good part of our work to literature but we are also trying to introduce other titles,” Mogheith.

While celebrating 150 years of Egyptian-French relations in 2019, the NCT produced a new translation of the memoires of Napoleon Bonaparte.

“By producing translations of history, sociology and philosophy we are coming in to complete the selection of translations that is already offered on the market by private publishing houses that opt more for translating literature to secure revenues,” he said.

“Of course we remain keen on satisfying the growing taste of readers to read translated literature and we work on this either on own or in partnership with some private publishing houses; but we know that there are so many interesting titles that readers in Egypt would be keen to get and we try to bring them a decent selection every year,” he argued.

For the “Year of Russia,” which will include a prominent presence at the Moscow International Book Fair (MIBF), the NCT is planning to translate the prominent two volumes of Taha Hussien’s The Greater Sedition, which tells the history of feud over ruling the Muslims in the few years following the death of Prophet Mohamed and Galal Amin’s “Whatever happened to the Egyptians” that depicts the evolution of social norms in Egypt through the second half of the 20th century.

Each year, Mogheith said, the NCT produces around 180 to 200 translations, and of these, there is a conscious effort to produce at least 30 to 40 non-fiction titles.

“We want to introduce our readers to the most recent and classic titles on music, art, cinema and even culinary history,” he said.

This year, NCT translated from German into Arabic a thick two-volume titled The Encyclopaedia of the Arabian Nights by Ulrich Mazrolph and Richar Van Leeuwen, which aims to explain the core concepts in the One Thousand and One Nights. There again, the translation was done from the English edition.

Mogheith argued that if the NCT had to choose between securing an accurate and easy-to-read translation from a second language or a translation from the original that might not be all smooth, the choice would be for the first.

“We have had translations from the original on many occasions; however, we have to admit that there is a problem of translation in general and that this problem is particularly challenging if we are talking about languages other than French and English,” Mogheith said.

The trouble, he argued, is that university graduates who studied the art of translation are often not skilled enough due to the limitations of their studies, leaving them equipped to translate news, politics and maybe history, without really enabling them to master the translation of philosophy, sociology or even literature and art.

To overcome this shortcoming, Mogheith said that the NCT is running translation workshops to help create new cadres that specialise in diverse disciplines. Still, he added, the NCT does not have its own body of translators but rather works with a pool of freelance translators that has been slowly expanding.

NCT books are available at its outlet next to the Cairo Opera House and in outlets in several universities. It has a stand at the International Cairo Book Fair and other book fairs around the country.

This year, the NCT has started online sales. “We have been expanding our online service in general. Before each book fair we put a list of the old and new titles available with their price list to help the book fair visitor plan their shopping upon interest and budget,” Mogheith said.

The NCT will be doing this later this year in preparation for the Cairo book fair which takes place in January.

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