Translating books from Portuguese into Arabic builds bridges with Brazil
ABU DHABI - The recent Abu Dhabi International Book Fair included the introduction and discussion of “Min al-Mahjar ila al-Watan” (“From the Diaspora to the Homeland”), which contains selections from 12 books written by Brazilian authors of Arab origin or influenced by Arabic culture.
The texts were translated into Arabic by Safaa Abu-Shahla Gibran and Mohammed Mustafa al-Jaroush and published by the Kalima Project for Translation of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
Among the authors featured was Milton Hatoum, a Brazilian contemporary writer of Lebanese descent who was the recipient of the Portugal Telecom Prize for Literature and a three-time winner of the Premio Jabuti Award for best novel.
Raduan Nassar, recipient of the Camoes Prize for Portuguese language literature, was also included.
There was also promising writer Marcelo Maluf, the 2016 recipient of the Sao Paulo Prize for Literature for Best Book of the Year-Debut Author Over 40 for “A Imensidao Intima dos Carneiros” (“The Immense Intimacy of Sheep”), in which he wrote of the personal history of his Lebanese grandfather. Maluf is of Lebanese and Syrian descent.
The anthology included a chapter from a novel by Maria Valeria Rezende, winner of the Casa De las Americas Prize for Best Novel for 2006, the Premio Jabuti Prize for Best Novel in 2015 and the same prize for Debut Authors in 2009. Rezende has written 20 books. She began her career as a teacher during the 1960s working in various regions of Brazil and other parts of the world. She lived in Algeria where she developed close relations with the Arab world. In her latest novel “Other Songs” (2016), she recalled her experiences in Western Sahara during the 1970s.
The symposium dedicated to “Min al-Mahjar ila al-Watan” was moderated by Ghaith Hassan and attended by some of the authors — Mirna Queiroz, Leonard Tannous, Marco Lucchesi, Anna Miranda and Maluf — featured in the anthology. They expressed delight at attending the book fair and spoke of the profound influence of Arab culture on themselves and on Brazilian and European culture.
Miranda, winner of the Jabuti Prize in 1990 and 2003, has published about 30 books. Her novel “America” is acclaimed as being a reference on Arab immigration to Brazil during the 19th century.
“Brazil is a unique country in this world,” she said. “It is a country with many mosques and many Arab immigrants, both old and new; yet it is a model of creative coexistence, especially with the Arabs.
“These Arabs have had a tremendous influence on Brazilian culture by adding new vocabulary to it or through their creativity in the arts and literature. There are important poets of Arab origin who represent the pride of Brazil. Arab women and men in Brazil are known for their bravery and daring and there are lots of exciting human stories carried by these immigrants.”
Maluf told the story of his immigrant ancestry. “If I’m here, it is thanks to my grandfather. I’m the grandson of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants. My grandfather was Lebanese and my grandmother was Syrian,” he said. “My grandfather was As’ad Maalouf, who was compelled to leave Lebanon at an early age. The Ottomans had hanged two of his brothers so his father decided to save the only child he had left by pushing him to migrate in 1921 on a long journey to Brazil full of solitude, pain and misery.
“In Brazil, my grandfather met the daughter of a Syrian immigrant, married her and had my father and my uncles. My novel “A Imensidao Intima dos Carneiros,” which was published in 2015, tells the story of my grandfather and of his journey and exile.”
“My grandfather died in 1967 and I was born in 1974,” continued Maluf. “So, I don’t know him but my parents and my uncles told me stories of his suffering. For me to write about this suffering, I had to live a similar experience as my grandfather’s. I had to live alone, isolated and afraid.
“I wrote about my grandfather’s painful experience from the moment he boarded the ship to Brazil until his arrival and his meeting with my grandmother. When the novel won a major Brazilian award, I felt that I had made my family and ancestry proud.”
Lucchesi, professor of comparative literature at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, is of Italian origin. He praised the work of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and read Darwish’s famous poem “To My Mother.”
Lucchesi has won several awards, including the Alcio de Amoroso Lima Prize in 2008. He received the Marin Surescu Award from Romania and an award from the Italian Ministry of Culture, in addition to winning the Premio Jabuti Award three times. He has translated the Arabic poetry of Rumi into Portuguese.
Said Hamdan al-Taniji, director of publishing at the Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi, praised “Min al-Mahjar ila al-Watan” and said Brazilian literature deserves translation and open bridges to Arab culture, a culture that has influenced it and put it in the hearts and minds of many of its distinguished literary figures.