‘Two Languages Diverged’: I Chose One and Then the Other

In a culture where many words mean the same thing; translation is impossible. You can never translate.

& Arablit

When is translation the right choice, and when should the writer adapt her work?

By Ibtisam Barakat

Painting by Ibtisam Barakat. Painting by Ibtisam Barakat.

This month, organizers of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair invited me to write an essay in Arabic for a special newspaper supplement about the fair, with a focus on the responsibilities and challenges of translating for children. I did. Then I decided to translate the article for World Literature Today magazine, with the title: “Drifts of an Arab Boat in the Sea of Translation.”

Two minutes into translating the article, I realized that I must “adapt” rather than translate. These two languages of life, histories, and the present moment, in these two different worlds, “diverged” like the two roads in Robert Frost’s famous poem. Which one should I take? As a bilingual author and translator, I knew that I must embrace both. I must dig a…

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