New York: Syrian translator Khalid Al Joubaily grew up watching his father bloom in a garden full of language, from Arabic to English and French. Reading, translating, and teaching – his father became his first linguistic muse.
Now, Al Joubaily boasts a long career as a renowned translator himself, involving dozens of literary translations, most of which are novels.
Al Majalla chats with Al Joubaily about how George Orwell’s Animal Farm transformed his life as he knew it – and why he hasn’t written an original novel himself.
When were you born, and what were your beginnings with literature?
I was born in the city of Aleppo, Syria, in 1954. My father was proficient in several languages and a passionate reader. It seems that this was contagious because I caught the bug. He worked as a translator and a teacher of both English and French in Aleppo, and I always watched him with great admiration as he translated.
I was also fascinated by his handwriting, whether in Arabic or English. Perhaps my love for learning languages began when I was young, as my father started teaching me the French language.
When I started prep school, I was randomly assigned to study English. My passion for the English language was huge. Later, I enrolled in the Department of English Language and Literature at Aleppo University.
Have you made any attempts at writing a novel yourself?
I thought of nothing but becoming a translator. I really liked literature and read a lot of literary works, and I made several attempts to write a story, but I never completed them. Translation was my true calling; it helped me compensate for my lack of original writing.
What does it mean to have a second language?
Having a second or third language means that I can navigate through other worlds that were once mysterious and inaccessible to me. I began to realise that the purpose of looking into the cultures of other nations and reading their literature is to expand one’s horizons, allowing him to live in worlds and ideas he was previously unaware of. It takes him out of his own cultural circle and opens up limitless possibilities for him.