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Bringing international literature to the blind

The nonprofit online magazine Albawtaka Review is translating and recording English audio books into Arabic for Egypt's blind


Hala Salah Edin, founder Albawtaka, a Cairo-based nonprofit that translates contemporary English literature into Arabic  (Photo Courtesy of Hala Salah Edin)
Hala Salah Edin, founder Albawtaka, a Cairo-based nonprofit that translates contemporary English literature into Arabic
(Photo Courtesy of Hala Salah Edin)

By Rana Khaled

Hala Salah Edin likens translation to a form of alchemy.

“Translating literature is much like putting two precious metals into one pot and melting them to reach a new form of rareness, which allows the reader to see the life of others from different perspectives,” she said. “Having previously been melted by the heat of prejudice, readers are being re-shaped with a bird’s eye view of the world, free of judgment.”

This idea of exposing people to new points of view is part of the reason Salah Edin, founded the Albawtaka Review, a nonprofit online magazine that features contemporary English literature translated into Arabic. It also inspired the nonprofit’s latest project, which aims to bring international literature to an even more neglected population – Egypt’s blind.

Assuming they won’t make high profits, publishing houses have long neglected producing audio versions for books and novels. Salah Edin’s project is dedicating to remedying the shortage of books available to the blind by producing about 10,000 recordings.

For this project, titled “Not Chick Lit: Stories by Ordinary Women in and Beyond Turmoil”, Salah Edin selected stories that explore contemporary humans’ socially-constructed dilemmas, she said, opening a window to women and their challenges in the 21st century, their worlds and their perspectives.

 “As its name implies, the project is indeed about women but it doesn’t necessarily address only women,” Salah Eldin said. “I chose these stories with a human eye, rather than a feminist eye. It reflects women engaging with the plight of poverty, estrangement, prejudice, oppressive traditions, the holocaust, a child’s loss, corruption in academia, racism and the impalpable nature of music.”

The audio books will be distributed to four institutions for the blind in Cairo and three in Libya, including The Egyptian Blind Association, Taha Hussein Hall in Cairo University, Helwan University and Fagr Eltanweer Organization in Cairo, the Association for the Blind in Benghazi (ABB), the Blind Organization and Arete Foundation for Arts and Culture in Tripoli.

The project’s origin dates back to April 2006, when Salah Eldin established Albawtaka Review, hoping to deliver contemporary English literature to ordinary people in the Arab world via translation. Albawtaka Review is an Arabic independent non-profit online quarterly concerned with translating English short fiction.

Raised in Tanta where she received a Bachelor of Arts from Tanta University, Salah Eldin’s first encounter with translation was rendering the English text of An Artist of the Floating World by British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro into Arabic.

Her passion for translation arose from thinking that one of the main reasons for cultural clashes is the belief that the other is different, with unfamiliar and undecipherable behaviours, thus ominously unreachable. In her opinion, translating literature has revealed the falsehood of this conviction, exposing that what unites us is actually more than what keeps us apart.

The idea for Albawtak, an Arabic word meaning ‘the crucible’, came to her when she read a short article by Egyptian novelist Youssef Zeidan in Alahram Newspaper in 2005, which discussed the convenience of relying on the internet to deliver media contents.

“I had been translating stories for about six months [and] considerably failing to publish them in magazines due to their immense sizes,” she said. “It hits me that the internet doesn’t count words or think in numbers and I can easily publish long stories to be delivered to people’s inboxes in a matter of minutes.”

Salah Eldin opted to set up a website and design it herself, after teaching herself some basic computer coding. So far, she has published 43 issues, presented the biographies of 105 English-speaking writers, and 120 translated stories. In July 2010, Salah Eldin established Albawtaka Publishing House, which prints translations of contemporary English fiction into Arabic, in addition to anthologies of Albawtaka Review‘s short fiction.

For the first four years, Salah Eldin funded the project out of her own pocket. But, soon, the project garnered grants from The Arab Fund of Arts and Culture, the British Council in Cairo and The International Fund for the Promotion of Culture.

“Their financial support has a major role in the continuation and prosperity of this review,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

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https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/08/20/bringing-international-literature-blind/
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