The World Unseen, by Shamim Sarif: Translation Presentation
by Roslyn C. Famous
Let me begin by saying that I am honored to have been asked to be here. When Patricia first called me to ask me to be on the panel, I was at once flattered and frightened.
While I AM a translator and a grand admirer of both the art and the craft of literary translation, I am NOT a literary translator. It is an arduous craft that requires a depth of literary skills and patience. Now, while I can eventually learn the literary skills, it’s the patience and a long attention span that I cannot.
So I come before you all tonight as a representative of a casual bilingual reader who knows about translating.
Set in South Africa in the early 50’s, THE WORLD UNSEEN by Shamim Sarif is a novel that, in my opinion, stands out for its cinematic descriptions and narration. In other words, you feel like you are at the movies.
What makes the novel so great for me is Ms. Sarif’s ability to paint brilliant imagery with the brush strokes of simple text and dialogue that move you—breathlessly and with great anticipation—from one chapter to the next. I liken her novel to impressionist artwork painted solely with primary colors.
Secondly, the author describes emotions so well that that reader immediately identifies and empathizes with the characters.
From the very beginning, this is a book that instantly jolts you into tense moments that spark your curiosity. As you read along, you soon realize that the first chapter was only the start of the emotional rollercoaster that keeps you turning page after page, as it takes you from one climatic moment to the next.
I mean, like, the book is 315 pages long, and when I got to page 307 it STILL felt like a cliff hanger.
So with all that in mind, the question NOW is: how does one appreciate the translation? What are the hallmarks of a translation worthy of recognition?
Well for me, in a work such as this, I’m less concerned about whether the translator—in this case, PATRICIA, found the precise word. As an “accidental translation critic”, I am more interested in finding out if the reader of the translation experiences the same emotions, the same thoughts, the same context, and same writing style as the reader of the original text. That, to me, is my litmus test.
And in my assessment, Patricia PASSED that test. She deftly transmits the simplistic, cinematic writing style of Ms. Sarif.
And let me tell you, I tested this with the most “scientifically proven” method possible. I’ll let you in on the secret: I… would flip back and forth between the two books. Yep. Totally legit science.
What impressed me was just how seamless it was to do this. I could read one chapter in English, and the next chapter in Spanish and feel that both were written by the same person.
What’s the big deal, you say? That can’t be too hard, right? Wrong. Writing style is as personal and unique as the way we think and dress. And finding someone who shares your style is a special moment. To echo the style of the original author so flawlessly is a feat worthy of admiration.
Patricia spoke to me and mentioned how one of the things that first drew her attention to the book was her affinity for the author’s writing style. I’d have to agree.
As mentioned earlier, another characteristic of Ms. Sarif’s writing style is her ability to engulf the reader in the emotions, tension, suspension, and tenderness of her novel.
Without giving away any part of the plot, all I can say is that there is one scene that had me on the edge of my seat, my heartbeat racing with each word, and identifying with the protagonist’s fear. So much so, that at one point, as I was lying in bed, I literally screamed a dramatic NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!, leaped up, threw the book aside, and was terrified to turn the page and find out what would happen next.
THAT, ladies and gentleman, is pure magic.
That ability for a story teller to awaken your imagination with a specific combination of words is a beautiful skill.
Recreating that magic in another language is, to me, one of the hardest challenges of translating literature. For it’s not just a matter of opening a dictionary and picking any word, it’s about understanding the power of words.
Patricia masterfully recaptured that magic in her translation. I’ll use an example that doesn’t give away the plot.
So, imagine this: A young wife is being sent back to India because she “shamed” her husband and his family. Before leaving, she begged them to let her take their 1st born son back with her. We are now at the train station, and her husband has accompanied her and their 2 children as they board the train. The husband is standing outside on the platform:
[PATRICIA READ PAGE 140-142]
As I said: PURE. MAGIC.
This is but one of many emotional scenes, each of which was brilliantly translated by Patricia.
Congratulations Patricia, on finding this gem and sharing your act of love with the Spanish-speaking world. Thank you for uncovering yet another layer of THE WORLD UNSEEN.
And thank you, for bestowing me the honor of being here.
El mundo oculto (The World Unseen), by Shamim Sarif
Translated by Patricia Schaefer Röder
Ediciones Scriba NYC
Buy it here