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The Translator

November 12, 2011

I blogged about Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof on my previous blog, as one of a list of books I am reading in my women’s book club. So far we have read Infidel, Nomad, Stones into Schools, Racing Against Time, The Blue Sweater Project, White Man’s Burden. Books on the list for future reading are Collapse of Civilizations and Better Together. Alongside this list, I have enjoyed Half a Yellow Sun, The Enchantress of Florence, and Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance. Of this list, I highly recommend Half the Sky and The Blue Sweather Project as books everyone should read.

I mention this list as context for the book I read yesterday, The Translator. This is the memoir of Daoud Hari, Sudanese translator for Nicholas Kristof and other journalists in Darfur. We don’t often get to listen to the voice of the translator, that person who is caught between cultures, experiencing the pain of one culture from the viewpoint of another. It is a book of both sorrow and courage, and incredibly also of humour and obstinancy in the face of beatings and torture. But you will appreciate the way Daoud Hari has told a deeply human story. Hari was eventually assisted in coming to the US, where he wrote this book. His work as a translator had made him a man without a country.

One interesting incident is when the journalist, Paul Salopek, believes that Hari has called him a spy because of his use of the term hawalya. But Hari exclaims that it only means “white man.” Paul does not know whether to believe him or not and for some time refuses to speak to Hari until he has it confirmed in court that hawalya does not mean “spy.”

In court the attorney general told the guards to untie the hawalya.

Paul jumped up: “Why do you call me a spy? You know very well that I am no spy.”

The attorney general corrected him with a smile: “Hawalya? Sir, it means, well, it just means ‘white man.’ A white fellow. It’s a good word, almost affectionate.”

Paul looked like a man who sees a beloved brother come home after being a long time lost to him. He came over to me and apologized and we laughed.

“You are my brother,” I said to him. “I would never say thing to harm you.” He shook my shoulders and closed his eyes and said he knew that.

He seemed more recovered in the next hour than in all the time since ending his fast.

It had been a pretty good day, considering that the three of us were looking at fifteen to twenty years in a very bad prison. But what, not counting family, is more important than friendship? (page 171)

This passage calls to mind the Hebrew word  רֵ֫עַ  “friend, companion, fellow” sometimes weakly translated as “neighbour” in our English Bibles.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2011 8:33 pm

    It may interest blog readers to know that Hari’s book is currently available at a cheap price (60% off) from Amazon.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 12, 2011 10:37 pm

    Thank you. I was given this book by someone who knew my interest.

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