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Due Settimane Nelle Trincee

Alemseged Tesfai
Book Review
Due settimane nelle trincee: Reminiscenze giovanili e guerra in Eritrea is the title of the translated version of Alemseged Tesfai’s Kilte Saminti ab Difaat, previously also translated to English: Two Weeks in Trenches.

The book comprises one of the author’s most memorable pieces: Libi Tegadalay, the Heart of Tegadalay, as such it is more likely a book present at the shelves of many households.

The Italian translation finds its way to Italian readers including students of the local Italian schools in Asmara; thanks to Eritrea’ longtime friend Stefano Pettini, who’s been very active in translating English articles to Italian as well as putting up webs to let the world know about Eritrean wonders. Printed in January 2016, Due settimane nelle trincee: Reminiscenze giovanili e Guerre in Eritrea, was inaugurated in Asmara on the 31st of March.

One of the main reviewers of the book was Father Protasio. His comment was memorable as he reviewed the book beyond the tiny misshapes. He expressed notes of gratitude for the fact that a piece of Eritrean history and pages of an elite Eritrean author’s diary will be appreciated by Italian readers. “Normally what is talked of Eritrea and Eritreans is an image of replication of the many dominations the country underwent through centuries: that of Turkey, the Egyptian, Italians, the English and the Ethiopians. In this work however, a substructure truth emerges to explain the real Eritrean. People endowed with distinctive traits such as that of resistance against odds, altruist traditions, the common spirit of sacrifice and courage”. Father Potasio.

Way back in time, when I was a student at the Italian school’s linguistic department, I had to read loads of European literary works and little of Achebe. In a school where Italian is the predominant language, naturally we’d miss on Eritrean literature. However, now on the libraries of the Italian schools in Asmara we’d better have Alemseged’s Due settimane nelle trincee next to the Divina Commedia of Dante and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Alemseged’s collection Due Settimane Nelle Trincee: Reminiscenze Giovanili e Guerre in Eritrea is an unpretentious diary that covers the author’s childhood until his days as Tegadalay in the trenches of the front; where he encountered a talking piece of meat, the heart of a martyred Tegadalay. In this work, the author’s pen is of humble words common to every day personal journals. Which makes the original book easy to read and relate with.

Sciobere: thirty two students surge against an authoritarian teacher, one who’s very strict and dogmatic about following rules. Much later in the passage, though, he finds himself joining the burial of his former rebel students, all fallen for a bigger revolution. The teacher’s own allegory of a spiritual declination.

Grazmatch Zeghu a tale of a humble and hopeful man and the comic short story of Hansu. The woman everybody thinks is dead, has her resurrection to teach a lesson to the living.

Due Settimane in Trincee, the days of the author in the deep entrails of the burning mountains of Sahel. Sahel, the most inhospitable and dreadful face of Eritrea. The trenches which engraved the hybrid emotions of joy and sadness allotted to war when war is the only option. He whom when much younger, alongside his class mates, dreamt of a ‘sciobere’ a riot against a mere teacher, is now living the nightmare dream of rebellion in a deadly war. Many never had a morning call to wake them up from it. A page of diary that stings the consciousness of the survivors.

La Battaglia di Afabet, an African Blitzkreg. A war of speed, which made the notion of ‘independent Eritrea’ not an option but an obligation. The war of Afabet, at its time, raised the public opinion of a world that for long refused to lend ears to the pleas of Eritreans. They call it the revivification of Den Bien Fu. That war reserved Eritrea’s rightful place for when it eventually gained its independence shortly after.

In his diary Alemseged writes about revisiting compatriots he met when he first joined the front, and the peak of the EPLF’s account which marked the starting of the termination of Ethiopia in Eritrea. This is a chorale to that epic war, an anthem to the military wits; the engineers of miracles and the myths of resistance. It is an important piece because it leads you to turn the book’s pages to immerse in what is really Alemseged’s masterpiece: Libi Tegadalay. We read here a release of his long kept wanders apropos the ‘anatomy’ of the human beings conducting a war of humanity for humanity beyond ordinary human capacity. Ali Ibrahim and Alemseged find a talking human muscle, a piece of meat, of a martyr.
It is no ordinary piece of meat, it is a living heart which pumps blood even when it belongs to a dead corps. That heart refuses to finish. It says no to burial. It strongly refuses to be buried. It’s strong this heart of the Eritrean freedom fighter. “The world has to still recognize this heart that willingly narrates all it has for peace amongst peoples, I say nobody has understood it. It is big this heart of a Tegadalay, it is because strong adversity and fire of the war have matured it to reach new levels” Alemseged Tesfai.

And finally we have the theatrical works, Le Opere Teatrali, a glimpse of what life under repression would be like. A message to the many of us who were not there. A reminder, to be grateful.

In translation Alemseghed’s works assume a beautiful literal musicality typical of the Italian language and literature. In his notes Stefano Pettini writes that the translated book might not be immune to involuntary mistakes. However he strove to preserve its peculiar originality. Which makes me think, that maybe a translation of a translation, might have removed the book’s prominence of both the original and the translated language, while also unbolting unpleasant misinterpretation and distortions. Small mistakes might cause a reader to stumble. Nevertheless, Pettini mounts a pleasant work that I hope will usher in the future stages for Eritrean works to be translated and resonate in many foreign languages.

This clearly shows that to actually reach a level of perfection, especially with literary works of immense accolade, one needs to go through prior translations and retranslations, corrected and re-corrected.

Stefano Pettini deserves a merit of acknowledgment for his works and his interest in the uniqueness of the Eritrean narrative, which sadly even to this day, has many disconsolate entities bullying it.

This translation work makes me think that maybe I should go back to my school for a high school literature class and sit for Alemseged’s Due settimane nelle trincee.

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