Reading can take you to different worlds, and the adventures they contain can take on another dimension when the books are read in different languages. New experiences invite reading something in a language very different from the original.
This is what the Brazilian publishing house Tabla offers. It focuses on publishing books on the cultures of the Middle East, particularly Palestine, and their echoes around the world.
“Our desire is to present and represent these cultures in an authentic way”, explained the director of Tabla, Laura di Pietro. “We aim to highlight the ways and means of contact, travel and the building of cultural bridges.”
She told me that there is a lot of interest in Palestinian literature in Brazil, which is why she thinks it is important to translate the book into Portuguese. Ghassan Kanafani’s books, for example, have an enthusiastic following in this South American country.
Brazilian publishing house Tabla won the Turjuman Prize at the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2021
Even though Portuguese is full of Arabic words, the language is a challenge for the Arab community in Brazil. Having learned Portuguese, many lose the ability to use their mother tongue. Therefore, the translation of literary works is of paramount importance for Brazilian Arabs because it allows them to stay in touch with “their country of origin”.
Plus, it helps shape their understanding of the world around them. Reading contemporary works offers a fascinating insight into other cultures and countries in a rapidly changing world plagued by misunderstanding and confusion.
“Well-established international translations strengthen the ability to build bridges between East and West and expand cultural and human communication between different cultures,” di Pietro said.
One of Tabla’s latest publications is the Palestinian Book Gaza, land of poetry, an anthology of 42 poems by seventeen young poets born in Gaza. Their poetry reveals a face of the besieged territory that we are not used to seeing after 15 years of the harsh and painful reality of besieged life.
A number of poetry and Arabic language professors in Brazil helped translate the book, such as Michel Sleiman, professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Sau Paulo, and Safa Jubran, university professor and translator. They led the translation of the book alongside students and alumni of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Arabic language and literature at USP.
“It’s more than just a book,” di Pietro said. “It’s a collective project to showcase Gaza’s rich cultural and literary heritage. It’s a very rare book, full of metaphors that testify to life despite wars.” Its writers, she added, were born into the reality of exile in their own land between a dead end sea and two hostile borders. “Nevertheless, poets cling to life with hope.” Royalties from book sales, she said, will go to Gaza through the Tamer Institute for Community Education.
Kanafani began his book The little jellyfish with these words: “To keep my promise to you, I decided to write you a story about a little jellyfish, which will grow up with you.” A Portuguese translation was published by Tabla and launched on July 8 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
According to di Pietro, the book was produced as a tribute to Kanafani who remains a powerful voice for the Palestinian people and their struggle. “His terrific writing is direct, simple and short. Reading Kanafani’s work is inspiring; he becomes a part of you. He was a great writer and a voice that will never be silenced.” Four other translated novels are in preparation.
Literature translation is a very creative art that requires a special skill set to balance the meaning of the original work and create something unique and distinctive that will evoke the same feelings and responses as the original. Tabla has used all the skills and tools at his disposal to preserve Palestinian literature and present it to the widest possible audience in Brazil, in a language that people understand.
“This is necessary to refute negative and distorted narratives about the people of Palestine,” Laura di Pietro added, “while enriching the Brazilian literary canon in the process.”
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