We are very pleased to welcome Núria Codina and Ghayde Ghraowi as editorial fellows! Núria is a researcher, lecturer, and translator from Barcelona. She holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Tübingen, and her dissertation presents a comparative analysis of texts associated with migration in the German, Spanish, and Catalan contexts. Ghayde is an aspiring translator and scholar of Arabic literature and literary history. He received his MA in Near Eastern studies from NYU, with a focus on early modern Arabic poetry anthologies.
Núria and Ghayde spoke with us about their relationship to language and the works and ideas that inspire them.
WWB: What drew you to Words Without Borders? What is your personal relationship to language and translation?
Núria: In the world of translation, it is sometimes difficult for writers who are less famous, who write in minor languages, or whose books didn’t make the bestseller lists to have a voice. What I like about Words without Borders is that it represents a vast array of literatures, languages, regions, and authors. It also gives visibility to the translator as someone who rewrites the text and engages with it in an active and creative way. Since I live in translation myself, I know that’s not a piece of cake. It requires a deep knowledge both of the languages and cultural contexts involved, as well as a capacity to estrange oneself from the source text and sometimes even from the mother tongue.
Ghayde: Words without Borders has been a part of my reading diet for ages. Given the usual gaps in the publishing world between a work’s original publication and its translation, WWB’s constant exhibiting of international literature really keeps me engaged in the contemporary. There really is no platform quite like it, or, at least, not nearly as accessible. As for the latter question, like countless other heritage speakers of Arabic (and other languages) in the United States, translation is a fact of life. Growing up being translated, or poorly translating myself, obviously influenced my eventual deliberate interest in translation.
WWB: Ghayde—as someone who’s studied Arabic literature and literary history, are there specific aspects of Arabic literature that you are drawn to and want to bring to the forefront? As a translator, what are some of the greatest joys and/or challenges of translating from Arabic?
Ghayde: As a (budding) scholar, at least in the premodern context, I’m drawn to less admired figures or genres of writing. I find this important for understanding literature as a social practice, how different aesthetic tastes emerge and why. In my own, rather nascent experience with translation, the greatest challenge in Arabic has been portraying colloquial expressions in English. The associative meanings behind many colloquial expressions are subtle and distinct from Modern Standard Arabic in a way that English doesn’t always allow for. This isn’t unique to Arabic really. Eventually, joy factors in when I can get English to do things I didn’t think were feasible. I often discover new things about English through Arabic in the act of translating.
WWB: Núria—you’re interested in texts about migration and in literary multilingualism. What do you find most compelling and/or challenging about analyzing texts across languages?
Núria: Texts about migration tell us about experiences that everyone can relate to, stories that are not foreign or exotic whatsoever. I’m mostly interested in the similarities and overlaps in terms of content and style between texts from different areas and in different languages, because they question our understanding of national literature. Analyzing these similarities can be quite challenging: You need to think across languages and disciplines and to take a transnational approach, but at the same time you have to be sensitive to the specificities of the text and the context in which it was written.
WWB: What are your favorite reads or who are some of your favorite writers? What do you look for in a great book?
Núria: Because I am interested in multilingual practices in literature and multilingualism in general, many of the books that I’ve read lately have to do with this topic. But I also feel drawn to books that show that the personal is political and vice versa—that the political is personal too. By this I mean books that describe how social and political tensions affect our identity and everyday life. Mercè Rodoreda’s La Plaça del Diamant is a great example. I read it for the first time when I was about fifteen, and it had a great impact on me, and on the way I understand the world, my home country, and even my dear grandmothers and my family’s history. The book is about the hardships of a young Catalan woman during and after the Spanish Civil War, and you can see how her personal story and her whole domestic life are influenced by the historical events and the gender roles of that time. It’s written in a very poetic and yet colloquial language, which challenges the boundaries between high and popular culture, between the written and the spoken language.
Ghayde: This year I was most moved by Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Otherwise, it’s difficult to say. My tastes are always changing. I think lately I’ve enjoyed novels with abrupt endings or without a sense of a fully realized plot. That lack of closure pleasantly disorients the rest of the narrative for me. Of course, that’s not something one can look for in a book.
WWB: You’ve both done quite a bit of travel. What are some of the places you’ve visited that have inspired you?
Ghayde: Lebanon. Many of my close friends have the same infatuation for Lebanon. We’re always plotting ways to revisit. Perhaps a succinct description is, if you don’t mind my inverting a persistent and patronizing adage, Paris is the Beirut of Europe.
Núria: I’ve spent most of my adult life abroad and lived in six different countries over the last ten years, but Germany has definitely left a deep mark both on my education and my private experiences and has become a second home. I value its excellent and affordable higher education system as well as the opportunities available for scholars and professionals working in the humanities. I belong to a generation that has experienced Europe as a lived identity and I have friends all over the continent. It would be a pity if the inability of the European institutions to address and solve current political and social crises eroded this sense of belonging.
WWB: Beyond literature and translation, what are your passions and interests?
Núria: I like swimming, both in the pool and in the sea. Under water is the only place where I can switch off completely and put my mind at rest. By the same token, I enjoy going on hikes or strolling around the city because walking sets new ideas in motion and gives me inspiration. I also take part in readings and other cultural events on a regular basis and love going to the theater and to the movies.
Ghayde: I was recently having dinner with a friend, also a graduate student, and we tried to discuss what we like to do outside work. We both drew blanks. It’s not as dramatic as I simply have no time for outside interests. Rather, having made my passions also my work, my leisure time activities tend to be pretty banal: watching movies, socializing with friends/loved ones, and so on. Things that don’t make for very interesting blog reading, I’m afraid.