Tahar Ben Jelloun
Q. You write in French but your books have been translated into many languages. What do you see as the challenges of publishing your work in translation? What is the relationship between author and translator when re-creating a text in another language?
Writing in a language that is not my mother tongue occasionally produces phrases or even turns of thought which are unusual in French. Some of my translators, particularly those from Nordic countries, often ask me to make clear how my characters are related. Others, like the Japanese, ask me to translate some Arabic words or specify the location of certain geographical places. In general, those familiar with North Africa and the Mediterranean do not ask me many questions. The only translation I can read and correct is the Arabic, when it is not one pirated by Syrian publishers. [. . .]
Q. Edward Said argued that literature and criticism from the West about the East creates false impressions of Arab and Eastern countries and reinforces a divide between the cultures. Do you agree with this? Where do you feel you are within this divide? What cultural concerns do you feel your work addresses?
He is right. The view that the West imposed on the Arab world has always been one of superiority, resulting in colonization. However, there have been very talented Orientalists, honest people like Jacques Berque, Maxime Rodinson, Louis Massignon, etc. They tried to talk about the Arab world from the inside. They spoke Arabic and were acquainted with the basic texts of the language. Today we are witnessing a vision based on prejudice and mediocrity. Arab culture is devalued, poorly understood, even ignored. This is because of political problems and nondemocratic leaders, and then also because of the oil that has distorted the true meanings of this civilization.