KUWAIT - Interview with translator Sawad Hussain
Sawad Hussain is the translator of Mama Hissa’s Mice, a rich and wrenching novel by the eminent Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi.
My conversation with Sawad begins with her trajectory as a literary translator from the Arabic, then delves into the controversy this book incited when it was published in Kuwait. Deemed to incite national disunity and dissention (though in fact its purpose was the exact opposite), the Ministry of Information banned and burned Alsanousi’s book for about three years, before revoking their decision.
Said to be the one book that should be saved if all Kuwaiti literature were to somehow disappear, Sawad felt an enormous sense of responsibility toward this work. She immersed herself in all aspects of the country, culture and language before beginning, she consulted with the author, and they had a well-known Kuwaiti poet in the US edit the translation for details. Sawad paints a fascinating picture of just how much goes into the translation of a complex work of literature like this one.
I found Mama Hissa’s Mice superbly rich in cultural and historical detail, and Sawad’s approach to the translation was perfect. Reading this book is exactly like travelling to a foreign country: you’re thrilled to be there, soaking up so much that is new and different, yet holding on to the humanity that lies at the core so as not to become too disoriented.
Sawad Hussain is an Arabic translator and litterateur. She has regularly critiqued Arabic literature in translation for ArabLit and Asymptote, among others; reviewed Arabic literature and language textbooks for Al-'Arabiyya Journal (Georgetown University Press); and has assessed Arabic works for English PEN Translation grants. She was co-editor of the Arabic-English portion of the seminal, award-winning Oxford Arabic Dictionary (2014). Her upcoming translations include a Palestinian resistance classic by Sahar Khalifeh for Seagull Books. She holds an MA in Modern Arabic Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Sawad’s Twitter handle as a translator: @sawadhussain
Sawad’s Twitter handle as a reviewer of books by women: @sendmebooks
Author Saud Alsanou’s Twitter handle: @saud_alsanousi
-Lisa Carter, Founder & Creative Director, Intralingo Inc.