Two Authors with Two Powerful Visions

Posted: October 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

On Wednesday we welcomed the award-winning Basque author Kirmen Uribe to Oxford in conjunction with the Oxford Centre in Comparative Criticism and Translation. He is a man of multiple talents, and over the course of the evening we learnt about his work in different media including poetry, film and animation.

He became particularly eloquent when talking about how important it is that he writes in Basque. Under Franco, literary culture in this ‘minor’ language came under threat because of restrictive government policies. In recent years it has enjoyed something of a renaissance, in part because of wider international interest in Basque literature.

‘In Basque the word for ‘Basque’ just means ‘one who speaks the language,’ Uribe told us. ‘There are some people who want to keep the language only within the region but I do not agree with this. If somebody in America or Japan can speak Basque then that is great. I think that person is Basque!’

The belief that all languages and literatures are the common property of the whole of humanity chimes with what we at PEN hold dear. And Uribe was convinced that open-mindedness on this subject is a way in which possessors of ‘minor’ languages through the world may be able to protect their heritages.


Then on Friday Lebanese author Dominique Edde joined us to speak with Dr Jane Hiddleston about her newly-translated novel, Kamal Jann.

It traces the fortunes of a Syrian family before the recent awful conflicts. Although it is on the face of it a work of fiction, Edde was insistent that it speaks truths about the reality of life for Syrian people.

‘There are so many lies. You are here in Oxford, which is an important place in the West. You must know how things really are. This is a complicated world where many things are linked together and it is hard to get to the truth. But I have listened to these Syrian people for my whole life and I understand. You must know how things really are. There are so many lies.’

She also revealed to us some details of her collaboration with Roz Schwartz, her English translator for Seagull Books. We got a sense for the extraordinary care that went into the translation procession. Schwartz’s eye for precision of rendering was brought into fruitful tension with Edde’s ear for the rhythm of each sentence. There was, for example, an overnight stand-off over whether to use ‘in the meantime’ or ‘meanwhile’ in the last sentence.

‘Next morning, like always, I realised Roz was right,’ Edde told us.


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