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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 available to Tigrigna readers in Eritrea in 2018. It is one of the best sellers and much loved romantic fiction 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 Gardner tries to restore harmony in his family, which was disturbed by the entrance the new child into the peaceful life of the family. The reader could not put the book down as he or she is ‘compelled’ to continue reading in an attempt to know how the conflict between Tom Gardner 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 in the past, his first text in the field of literature seems to affirm that he is really an avid reader apart from being a well-versed literati. From analogical point of view, Mr. 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 insightful if they “write, write, write!” Iit is sensible to make sense of what Basilios has offered the reading public of Eritrea.

Spencer’s original book, ‘Home Song,’ was published in English in 1995 and is organized into 18 chapters (of 442 pages). The Tigrigna version is a little bit different in terms of title, cover design, blurb and other features. The title of the Tigrigna version reads “Sidra ab Fetene’ (A Family in Ordeal) and has been abridged to 256 pages.

Steiner and Gutt stipulate in their respective studies the fact that a translator must first be a ‘complete reader’ to establish the full intentional quality of the ST and then changes himself to a writer, which is inarguably the main strength of Mr Basilios. 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 script. When one tries to read between the lines and compares the contents of both the original and the translated versions, the translated book’s substance and style of presentation are seemingly in sync with each other.

In this case, Mr. Basilios seems to take caution 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 really a good preference. That is why he was obliged to translate the spirit of the source-text instead of merely relying on the ‘rule of the thumb’. The technique of translation employed in his book is what is commonly known as free translation. One of the indications of this technique is seen in the topic: from ‘Home Song’ in English to ‘Family in Ordeal’ in Tigrigna. Even then, literal translation is also exploited where it is deemed necessary. Thus, the literal translations of words, clauses, sentences and metaphors in the Tigrigna version do justice to the original script. Likewise, the style, tone and register adopted in the translated version are symmetrical to the spirit of the original work..

In terms of essence, the development of plot, characters, setting, diction, style and voice of ‘Family in an Ordeal (Sidra ab Fetene)’ are also well-woven based on a linear mode of narration using the 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 readability and ability to maintain reader’s interest. The fact that its theme is spread all over the book makes it also more enlightening and valuable. Apart from becoming laden with sub-plots, the story-thread does not break since the causes and effects are complementary to one another. That is why its characters’ critical choices and the climax of the story arouse keep readers in suspense until the resolution of the conflict.

In terms of appearance and structure “Family in an Ordeal” is pretty eye-catching. The simplicity and message in its cover image, which are commensurate with the content, the way the chapters are organized, the indentation of paragraphs, font size and the like are inviting to any casual reader. This demonstrates the seriousness of the translator.

Last but not least, it would have been advisable if the characters’ names were adapted or localized 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 fiction, they will be able to undoubtedly understand the twin responsibilities of building a monumental family and a legendary institution that can enjoy a good posture all the way. Moreover, the book may help the young to appreciate 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 something to offer as a lesson to Eritrean authors in their writing career. Considering its educational values, it may be advisable to turn the book into a feature film.

As Charles Cantaloupe, who advocates staunchly 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 is, thus, really a case in point as far as its resuscitation is concerned. But literature cannot be known beyond its geographical origin and understanding without translation.

Hence, if Eritrean literature is to flourish, its literary masterpieces must be made available in translation. 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. 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, 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 is why no one seems to understand that writing at large, and literary translation in particular, demands the talent of processing and articulating ideas, with your audience in mind, so as to win their hearts and minds. What the author needs as his compensation is constructive feedback as to whether or not his work of art has impacted readers. Only then does that the success of an author becomes the success of his readers!

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