Well, Not Quite . . .
One of the several mammoth translations released this year that’s on my “to read for the Best Translated Book Award” shelf—along with The Kindly Ones, News of the Empire, The Loop, Brothers, etc.—is Rafik Schami’s The Dark Side of Love. Clocking in at over 850 pages, Interlink Publishing deserves some recognition simply for being brave enough to publish something like this.
Claire Hopley’s review in the Washington Times makes it sound pretty interesting:
Novels from Syria rarely come our way, and novels from the Syrian emigre community of Europe are scarcely more frequent, so Rafik Schami’s “The Dark Side of Love,” first published in Germany where it was a best-seller, comes with preoccupations that are new to most of us.
Its form, however, is a lot like those 19th-century novels that trace their hero’s plight for hundreds of pages, 853 pages in this case. “Loose, baggy monsters” was Henry James’ description of classic English novels. Readers of “The Dark Side of Love” will often feel they are grappling with just such a monster – one that seems to ramble off, even get away, at times.
The novel is framed as a detective tale in which Inspector Barudi seeks to discover the murderer of an important, and, as it turns out, sadistic secret service agent. But Barudi soon fades into the background as the novel focuses on Farid Mushtak and the love of his life, Rana Shahin, before finally coming together as a history of Syria in the middle decades of the 20th century. It’s a history that is rivetingly full of incident, awash in despair, yet not without dignity as exemplified by Farid.
What’s funny—was pointed out by the Literary Saloon’s Michael Orthofer—is the claim that this book was “Translated from the Syrian by Anthea Bell,” which is clearly wrong. We all make mistakes (I’m sure there are a minimum of three typos or grammatical errors in this post along), and I’m sure WT will have this corrected on their website in the very near future. But for the record, Schami moved to Germany in 1971 and this novel was first published in German in 2004. And Anthea Bell just happens to be one of the most respected translators working today, and is most well known for her translation of the French Asterix comics and her translation of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. And although she does translate from German, French, Polish, and Danish, she doesn’t actually translate from “Syrian.”