Collaboratively Translating Montasser Al-Qaffash

By McCullough, Gretchen | World Literature Today, November/December 2017 | Go to article overview

Collaboratively Translating Montasser Al-Qaffash


McCullough, Gretchen, World Literature Today


One of the reasons I love living in Cairo is the fact that everyone spins yarns: the porter, the maid, the taxi driver. No one has the corner on stories-many of these stories rely on rumor, humor, and hyperbole. Still, the problems of daily life are real and life is hard: many Egyptians vent their frustrations through anecdotes and jokes. As a fiction writer, much of my work is inspired by gossip and tidbits from daily life. This same interest spurred me to translate Montasser Al-Qaffash's story "Checking out the Apartment." AlQaffash's stories follow the path of the renowned Egyptian short-story writer Yusef Idris, in particular his collection The Cheapest Nights. Idris used formal Arabic as a general rule but expressed the viewpoints of characters through punchy vernacular dialogue. It shouldn't go without mention that the chasm between formal Arabic and colloquial Egyptian is huge. Colloquial Egyptian is one of the richest dialects in the region and has integrated many phrases and words from other languages: Byzantine, Roman, Greek, French, and English-Egypt being a melting pot for its occupiers' languages.

In his story "Checking out the Apartment," Al-Qaffash takes a Cairene humdrum problem of finding an apartment and spins a tale around it. The story opens with a narrator receiving a tip from a friend about a flat within his budget that overlooks the Nile. The narrator is suspicious because the apartment is so cheap. One of the challenges was to remain truer to the original yet find the equivalent that communicates the same idea to a foreign reader. I collaborated on the translation with Mohamed Metwalli, an Egyptian poet who has an excellent knowledge of formal Arabic and colloquial Egyptian in addition to a very good grasp of English, including Americanisms. …

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