The Art of Translation: An Insightful Conversation with Two Female Translators

Mona Elnamoury and Dina Al-Mahdy discuss the art of translation and how creativity, cultural sensitivity, and broadening one’s views are all entwined in it.

Friday 17/03/2023

We will talk to two accomplished female translators with a lot of expertise in the field, Mona Elnamoury and Dina Al-Mahdy, in this interview.

They discuss the art of translation and how creativity, cultural sensitivity, and broadening one’s views are all entwined in it. They talk about their love of translation, and their dedication to mentoring and educating other translators, in addition to the difficulties they who have encountered and how they surmounted them. Join us for a thought-provoking discussion since these powerful women illuminate the fascinating world of literary translation.

Mona Elnamoury

Mona Elnamoury is a Cairo-based university teacher, literary critic, creative writer, and literary translator. She is an assistant professor at, English Department, Faculty of Arts, Tanta University. Writing and translation are two passions she has besides the academia.

Feminist literature, children and Young Adult literature, the fantastic/ mystical literature are among her major interests to criticize, write in and translate.

Elnamoury translates from English into Arabic and vice versa.

On the one hand, she has published English translations of Ahmed Zaghoul Alsheety’s “Three Green Canaries” in Metamorphoses in 2011, Ibrahim Aslan’s “A Two-Bedrooms Apartment” in Arablit.org, Ammar Aly Hassan’s “Tales of the First Love” in Two Lines in 2015 and, “The Void Hunter” by Ammar Ali Hassan in Banipal in 2022.

On the other hand, she published Arabic translations of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omela”, a science fiction piece in Akhbar AlAdab in 2011, and A Wizard of Earthsea a renounced YA fantasy for the NCT, Cairo in 2015,  and three books of The Young Scientists Series for Children for the NTC, 2020.

Mona Elnamoury
Mona Elnamoury

Mona Elnamoury is also a creative writer and her first book, Chichat Over the Thames, a travel literature tale, was published by Alain publishing House in 2017.

To her, literary translation is part of her overall creative impulse. She says she, like most of her language colleagues, has translated in almost all fields of knowledge at one point in her life, but around ten years ago she has decided to focus on translating literature.  She believes translating literature is similar to writing; creative writing is an endeavor to “translate” irresistible feelings and visions about the world, and literary translation is an endeavor to recreate someone’s “translation of the world” into another culture/language. In both cases, a certain amount of meaning is unavoidably always lost in the process.

Elnamoury argues that because literature is by definition a special discourse, translating literature requires particular handling. For instance, she says that when she translates literature, she has to fall in love with the work first; otherwise, she cannot lend it her “womb” to be born in another world. With the emotional impetus, she believes that serious research on the literary work in question, as well as the author and his/her linguistic and literary characteristics, is definitely required. 

Though this study does not appear directly in the translation, the translator must grasp some of the backgrounds of the work in question.  Even after the “baby” is born, to go on with the female symbolism Elnamoury uses, tremendous work is still needed to nourish it, feed it, and check on it; that is to say, much more work is still needed to edit the translation of a literary piece.

While translating, Elnamoury is more or less under the spell of the work itself until the work is finished, if there is any way for that to really happen! After the first draft is written, she usually leaves it for a considerable period of time before the editing starts. If she is translating into English, she usually asks one of her English native fellow translators to have a look. This is why she believes that “twining” in translation work is very necessary to ensure truer results.

Dina Al-Mahdy

Dina Al-Mahdy works as Head of the Projects Coordination Unit, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria). She is the Chief Operating Officer at Women of Egypt Network. She holds a BA in Language and Translation from the Faculty of Arts, English Department, Alexandria University. She earned a Diploma of Higher Education in Translation Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK.

Dina is a writer and translator for numerous national and international magazines and newspapers. She has been lucky enough to get some work experience at worldwide publishers and organizations such as Bloomsbury Publishing House, Austin Macaulay, Dawen Publishers, National Center for Translation, UNESCO, UNITAR, and many others. Currently, she is a freelance translation consultant at numerous entities. 

Dina Al-Mahdy
Dina Al-Mahdy

One of Dina’s greatest passions is translation. “For me, translation has always been an intertwined aesthetic art and a creative act, that is the way it should be, but it makes it all the more difficult,” says Dina. “It is about intervening in cultural knowledge, expanding horizons of knowledge. It is also about stretching language. I want readers in Arabic or English to think about other languages, to realize that their language cannot and should not ‘say everything,” says Dina.

During her long career as a translator, she pursues to explore new territories, bridging cultural gaps, expanding her knowledge, and advancing as a writer and translator. She is continuously striving to improve and innovate and to pass her knowledge to her peers in her country.

She realized that to offer more, she has to learn more. She participated in international events in many countries and that was her starting point to pursue further education and experience in the fields of translation and writing. She learned a lot from engaging with Egyptian and international translators, authors, and publishers. She also offers workshops for young and mid-career translators.

Dina says, “I mentor translators. The translation is a lonely business and we—translators—need each other. So, of course, this exchange of viewpoints all shapes each other.”

As a writer, Dina has written extensively on feminism and women’s issues since the nineteenth century till the present. But as a translator, her focus is more contemporary in nature—her translations of bestselling books in the field of self-help and positive psychology include Morning Makeover by Damon Zahariades, 101 Essays that Will Change the Way You Think by Brianna Wiest, The Art of Letting Go by Brianna Wiest; Massive Charisma by Patrick King, and Wired for Love by Dr. Stan Tatkin, among others.

She also translated numerous literary works including You and I by Mourid Elbarghouthi, Love without Limits by Nizar Qabanni, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, The Call of Cthulhu by H.P Lovecraft, and The Darkness at the End of Tunnel by Abdelhamid Abdellatif, in addition to many Sufi poems by Al-Hallaj, Jalaluldin Rumi, Imam al-Shafi, and Mansur Al-Hallaj and other prominent poets. 

 Many of her translations are works she found compelling and could not translate. She has translated a couple of authors and can’t imagine saying “no” to them because she thinks they are among the world’s most interesting and original writers.

 “Love and translation look alike in their grammar. In order to translate a text satisfactorily, you have to desire it and covet its meaning,” she says.

Style and voice are very important to her: she tends to be much less interested in works that she doesn’t find innovative. She loves the challenge of communicating a work’s narrative voice—to her that is the most important thing.

Dina’s books have been best-sellers and have been commended by Arab readers. She states that one of her happiest moments is when her words positively impact others. Recalling one of her proudest moments, she said “One day I came across a photo of the Egyptian International Football Player Mohamed Salah reading one of the earliest works I translated—and of which I remain very proud—was a self-help book titled Morning Makeover.”

Highlighting the secret behind her passion for positive psychology discipline, Dina said she is in a serious relationship with words. Based on her belief in the power of words to help, heal, hinder, hurt, harm, humiliate, and humble, she hopes to inspire as many people as possible through her writings and translations and to change their lives for the better. 

Both Mona Elnamoury and Dina Al-Mahdy are incredibly talented translators and authors. They are passionate about translation and see it as a form of artistic expression that includes cross-cultural dialogue.

Elnamoury concentrates on translating literature because she thinks it requires a special kind of handling, including emotional involvement with the work, careful research into the author and the work’s linguistic and literary elements, and a lot of editing to ensure the translation is as accurate as possible.

Al-Mahdy is committed to advancing and inventing in the field and is interested in using translation to broaden people’s perspectives on different cultures. She is passionate about bridging ethnic gaps through her job and provides mentorship to other translators. Overall, Elnamoury and Al-Mahdy are both extremely competent.

Dina Al-Mahdy's translations

Mona Lamloum

Link to the whole interview: https://middle-east-online.com/en/art-translation-insightful-conversation-two-female-translators

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