SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTH was selected by the Arab Literary Academy as the most important Arab novel of the 20th century, and is frequently cited as one of the most important post-colonial works in any language. Eminently readable for its beautiful prose and narrative intensity, the metaphorical exploration of the relationship between colonial powers and their victims and the politics of desire between black men and white women invites comparison with Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS and the work of Frantz Fanon.
The Sudanese author, Tayeb Salih, also worked as a journalist and broadcaster. He was fluent in both English and Arabic, and wrote SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTH in Arabic. Published in Beirut in 1966 to immediate acclaim, it appeared in English in 1969 in a translation by Denys Johnson-Davies, whom Edward Said described as ‘the leading Arabic-English translator of our time’. Over the course of his 70-year career, the indomitable Johnson-Davies championed many great contemporary Arab authors, introducing them to anglophone publishers and readers for the first time. You can read more about his life and work here and in his memoir, MEMORIES IN TRANSLATION.
The unnamed narrator of SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTH returns to his home village in Sudan after seven years of study in England. He is intrigued by a new villager, the mysterious Mustafa Sa’eed, who speaks good English. Gradually Sa’eed relates the story of his murky past, including his calamitous and sometimes deadly relationships with women. The book was banned in Sudan for several years from 1989 because of its graphic sexual imagery.
Another great gift to the English-speaking world in 1969 was the first of the Asterix comics, ASTERIX THE GAUL, superbly translated from the French by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. The ASTERIX series, created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, has had phenomenal international success, thanks in no small part to the ingenuity of its translators. The albums are available in more than 100 languages and dialects, including Sinhalese, Esperanto and Swabian. Most volumes have been translated into Latin and Ancient Greek, with accompanying guides for language teachers.
Bell and Hockridge are widely acclaimed for their skill in rendering the puns and wordplay of the original French into English, often finding solutions that are even funnier than the original, as with the renaming of the characters. The little dog Idéfix (idée fixe) transforms satisfyingly into Dogmatix, while the druid Panoramix is unforgettably reincarnated (at the height of hippy culture) as Getafix. Meanwhile, in Italian (tr. Marcello Marchesi, Luciana Marconcini, Alba Avesini et al.), Obelix’s famous mantra ‘These Romans are crazy’ becomes ‘Sono pazzi questi romani’ – which, presumably, was why Roman legionaries bore the standard ‘SPQR’. 😉