Translator Alex Elinson on Novelist Youssef Fadel’s Shift Away from Colloquial


Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ Celebrated Kidlit Author and Publisher Amal Farah on Surprises, Processes, and WishesCategories: Morocco And that was his audience. “So I don’t know if the suggestion to not include Moroccan Arabic [came from the publisher]. And that’s a very difficult thing to do — to write colloquially but in a pan-Arabic kind of way.”
Watch — or download —   the whole talk   at “[Fadel], like other skilled Arabic writers, when he uses darija in a limited way, I think he writes it in a way that’s understandable. Not only did I find it interesting, but really sort of brilliant, the way he’s able to use colloquial in a written form, in a way that’s really theatrical. I think he would like to reach readers beyond Morocco. It’s a joint publication between Fennec and Dar al-Adab, so it’s a shared publication, Moroccan and Lebanese. “But also, I honestly do think that he himself, just in the act of publishing with a non-Moroccan publisher…he is reaching for a larger audience. Translator Alex Elinson — who brought Youssef Fadel’s funny   A Beautiful White Cat Walks With Me   into bright, playful, enjoyable English — recently gave a talk at CUNY alongside anthropologist Mark Drury:
The relationship between anthropology and literature is a discussion for a different day; in any case, the talk opens — after a reading that sets the audience into giggles — with a discussion of the use of Moroccan colloquial. But I think he writes a darija that non-Moroccans can understand. While the third in the trilogy, the recently published   Farah,   does have a little. Frankly, I don’t blame him, when books in Morocco sell in the dozens. I have a couple of guesses. Elinson says:
“What brought me to the writing of Youssef Fadel was his extensive use of Moroccan colloquial Arabic in writing. “This novel actually has no colloquial in it. “I have not asked Youssef why this is the case — why he stepped back from this, I don’t know if it’s an obsession, but he was definitely experimenting with narrative language and use of Moroccan colloquial — why the change? So what brought me to the writer was that aspect, but in this novel he does not use a single word of darija, Moroccan colloquial Arabic.”
Elinson added that the second novel in the trilogy,   A Rare Blue Bird Flies With Me,   which has been translated by Jonathan Smolin, also doesn’t have colloquial. This book is the   first novel that he’s published outside of Morocco. As those of us familiar with Moroccan Arabic know, no one could possibly understand Moroccan Arabic, unless you’re a Moroccan (or that’s what other Arabs say). Well, I know darija, so I’m at an advantage. And I don’t mean that in a commercial sense. “Prior to the publication of A Beautiful   White Cat Walks With Me in 2011, all of his novels were Moroccan novels, and they were published by Moroccan presses, for Moroccans.