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From ‘Home Song’ to ‘Family in an Ordeal’

Introduction 1)

A book adapted into one of the Eritrean languages which is entitled ‘Sidra ab Fetene’ (Literally, A Family in an Ordeal)’ published in English as ‘Home Song’ was translated and became public to Tigrigna readers in Eritrea in 2018. As one may glimpse from the blurb, it is one of the top-selling and much loved romantic fictional-books so far with over 15 million copies in print.

Overview 2)

The protagonist is Tom Gardner a high-school headmaster, happily married and well-respected both personally and professionally. But there is something uncannily familiar about a new pupil at the school, who has a disturbing similarity to Tom at that age. Events lead to climax as Tom Gardener tries to restore harmony in his family, which was disturbed by the entrance into the peaceful life of the family by the new child. The reader is not allowed to put the book down as he or she is ‘compelled’ to continue reading, as they attempt to know how the conflict between Tom Gardener and his wife would be resolved.

The translator, Mr. Basilios Zemo, is an experienced Eritrean teacher, with 40 years’ teaching experience. But, Sidra ab Fetene is his first book. No matter what sort of prose or poem he produced before, however, his first text in the field of literature seems to affirm as a litmus-paper to define him that he is really an avid reader apart from being a well-versed literati. From analogical point of view, Mr. Basilios seems to show the truth Ann B. Dobie (2012) stated in ‘An Introduction to Literary Criticism’, that reading and writing seem to be inseparable acts, rather like two sides of the same coin. Good readers grow more perspective and insightful if they “write, write, write!” In terms of such spectrum, it is thus sensible to make a sense of what Zemo offered to the reading public of his compatriots in Eritrea.

Spencer’s original book, ‘Home Song,’ was published in English in 1995 and is organized into 18 chapters (of 442 pages). Its translated Tigrigna version is a little bit different in terms of title, cover picture, blurb color and similar features. As such, the title of the Tigrigna version is improvised to “Sidra ab Fetene’ (A Family in Ordeal) and its pages are abridged to 256 pages.

Gauged under such cardinal frameworks and principles of translation philosophies, Mr. Zemo’s translation has shown that the truths forwarded in Steiner T.R.’s book in ‘Aspects of Language Translation (1975: 5) and in Gutt. E’s ‘Study of Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context’ (1991: 164). Both Steiner and Gutt stipulate in their respective studies, the fact that a translator first must be a ‘complete reader’ to establish the full intentional quality of the ST and then changes himself to a writer is well-witnessed to be the main proficiency and strength of Mr. Zemo’s excellence. As understanding the original text is a necessary precondition for making a good translation, the selection and validity of the target-text also seems to be based on a thorough understanding of the original transcript. When one tries to read between lines and compares the contents of both the original and translated versions, the translated book’s substance and style of presentation are seemingly in track with each other.

In this case, Mr. Zemo seems to take cautiousness of his readership right from the onset of his task; the fact that he tended to stick on the lexical adaptation of languages and cultures is thus really a good preference. That’s why he was obliged to translate the spirit of the source-text other than merely relying on the ‘rule of the thumb. The technique of translation employed in his book is rather tilted on a ‘sense-for-sense approach’ which is commonly known as free translation. Perhaps one of the indications of such technique starts from baptizing the topic from ‘Home Song’ to ‘Family in Ordeal’. Even so, the literal translation which is usually obsessed with words is also exploited where it deems necessary. Thus, if one attempts to judge from such standpoints, the emulation of words, clauses, sentences, metaphors etc rendered into the second version-book seem to give sense with the original transcript. Likewise, if one tastes both the original and translated version of the texts, it is presumably reasonable that the distance of flavor and coherence of meaning, style, tone, register are likely in symmetry with the spirit of the original fiction.

In terms of essence, the development of plot, characters, setting, style, diction, style and voice of ‘Family in an Ordeal (Sidra ab Fetene)’ are also well-woven based on a linear mode of narration and using a third-person point of view. Thus, one can fairly come to a conclusion that such strengths of the artistic quality of the TL fiction are also key factors for its seminal readability and reader’s passion of interest. The fact that its theme is spread all over the book makes it also more enlightening and valuable. Besides, apart from becoming laden with sub-plots, the story-thread does not break since the causes and effects are complementary to one another. That’s why its characters’ critical choices and the climax part of the story arouse interest of readers till the resolution of the conflict.

In the meantime, the appearance and structure of “Family in an Ordeal” starts from its forefront face which is pretty eye-catching and well-accompanied with an appetitive color and footage of its front cover. As such, the simplicity and message of its cover image which are commensurate with the content, the way how the chapters are organized, and its indentation of paragraphs, font size and the like invite for any casual reader in arousing interest to read it. This in turn demonstrates for the seriousness and vigor of the translator. The fact that names of a dozen experts who participated in editing, proofreading, layout and suggestions are shown in the acknowledgment and blurb part of the book also seem to support it to be one of the ‘standard’ books in the country.

Meanwhile, a poem which is entitled ‘Home Song’ is there at the front page of the original text. In fact, the title of the poem also coincides with the book’s heading. Seemingly, one may also guess that the content of the poem might have been inspirational to the motivation of the author to come up with such a book. Nevertheless, the poem is completely excluded from the version of the target-text may be for an unknown reason. However, no matter what the reason may be, the fiction’s message seems to be coined in the poem as well. Hence, its inclusion in the translation version would have added more impetus and flavor to the weight of the target-text too. Last but not least, it would have been also advisable if the characters’ names could have been adapted or localized putting the context of the target-text into account just to create easiness for readers with low educational backgrounds.

Conclusion 3)

Indeed, there are important ‘Take-Aways’ one has to share and assimilate in his life from the fiction. If readers can internalize what they may gain from the phenomenal fiction, undoubtedly they will be able to understand about twin responsibilities of building a monumental family and a legendary institution that can enjoy a good posture all the way ahead. Moreover, the book may help young ones to realize and take golden experiences about the grammar of love and challenges of building a modern family. Meanwhile, besides the book’s philosophical ideas, since its plot, style of presentation and diction are also well-crafted and easy, it has also something to offer as lessons that the Eritrean authors can borrow in the course of their writing career. In a nutshell, it is also worth reminding that putting its educational values and social validity in to consideration, it seems to be waiting for adaptation into feature film too if deemed necessary.

As Charles Cantaloupe (ICES, 2018: 16), who advocates staunchly on the revitalization and development of Eritrean literature, underscored in his essay titled ‘Literature, Translation and National Development in Eritrea’, literature saves a nation from liquidation. What the Eritrean literature did during the armed struggle time is, thus, really a case in point as far as its resuscitation is concerned. [However], literature cannot be known beyond its geographical origin and understanding without translation (ibid). Hence, if Eritrean literature is to promote and flourish steps forward, its literary masterpieces are expected to come both from original scripts and translation inputs as well. Once Clifford E. Landers ‘Literary Translation: A Practical Guide’ highlighted that literary translators are delighted to see their work in print, and for many this is a reward enough (16). Therefore, if it is to be so, besides encouraging all types of writers, syndicate alliances and printing firms also must get due attention and motivation.

As a matter of fact, seemingly any type of authoring is quite tough. A reader may be able to end his reading and enjoy it in hours. But, for an author it is the reverse; most often, it may even take years to bring a book into completion. That’s why no one seems to understand that writing at large and literary translation in particular demand a talent of idea processing and articulating it with your audience so as to win the hearts and minds of his client readers. Far beyond that, what the author needs as his compensation is thus to get a constructive feedback whether or not his work of art has an added-value in the society of readers. It is only then that the success story of an author becomes the success of his readers!

Fessehaye Kidane

(MOE, Asmara)

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