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Frankfurt-bound: the translator Moataz El-Maghawry

by | Oct 9, 2019 | Interviews

The Frankfurt Book Fair is running an International Translators Programme this year bringing more than 35 translators to the fair for talks and workshops, giving them the opportunity to meet publishers, exchange best practice with colleagues and network in the world’s largest book fair.

There are two Arabic translators in the programme: Egypt’s Moataz El-Maghawry, who translates for Cairo’s Al Arabi and Al Kotob Khan, and Lobna Fouad, who is also from Cairo where she is an associate professor at the city’s Helwan University.

Today we speak with El-Maghawry who works as a lecturer in the German department at Ain Shams University, Cairo.

What are the challenges of translating from German into Arabic?

The German language is complicated, it has long a long sentence structure. One sentence could go on for two and half pages, which is quiet long, so the challenge is in breaking this kind of long sentences into shorter ones while making sure to deliver the author’s intended meaning at the same time. Also the Arabic readers do not know so much about German culture, so the translator does a lot of work to bring German culture closer to Arab readers, because there is a big difference between German and Arab culture.

What are you working on at the moment?

I work at the moment on the translation of two books: The World at your Back by the German writer Thomas Melle, which will be published by Al Kotob Khan [Cairo] for publishing and distribution.  It was shortlisted for the German Book Prize 2016.  The other book is 42 Grad by the swiss writer Viola Rohner, which will be published by Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing [Cairo]

Which are your main areas of translation?

Mainly fiction, but I translate non-fiction as well. I enjoy literary translation.

Can you tell me some authors you have translated and for which publishers? 

A story by Christoph Peters entitled The Date Grove, published by Sefsafa punlishing house April; a chapter of Literature of Rebellion by Susanne Schanda, published by Hindawi Foundation for Science and Culture ; and Kraft by Jonas Lüscher, which was published in Arabic by Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing.

What are the issues facing translators in Cairo?

Mainly, the instability of the job, especially with translating fiction. The rates are not that high, but if you improve yourself, if you deal on a regular basis with certain publishers who are known for constantly searching for new titles written in German and if you have a reputation of being a good literary translator, then it becomes easier. However, there are times when there are no literary works to translate at all. That is why it is not a safe and steady job. You cannot make a living depending solely on translation.

Do you think the work of translators is being recognised enough?

Recently, some translators started to become stars in the literary scene.  In the past, readers did not have trust in translated works, but now when they see how translators work and the workshops publishers like Al Arabi hold, they feel confident that they will read a translated text that is as good (and sometimes even better) as the original book.

Have you been to the Frankfurt Book Fair before?

No, I have not been to the Frankfurt Book Fair. This year is the first time for me, and hopefully not the last!

What do you think of Frankfurt’s translators programme?

I find the Translators program of the Frankfurt Book Fair very interesting and of great importance to translators from all over the world. The program gives translators the chance to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair and brings translators into close contact with publishers, writers and the active players in the German book market.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  Where are you from and where did you grow up?

My family comes from Al Mansoura in the Nile Delta. I was born in 1981 in Cairo. I went to school in Cairo and learned German as a second foreign language only in high school. My cousin lived in Germany for a long time. She told me a lot about the German people and culture, which motivated me to study German and to visit Germany.

Where did you study?

I studied German Language and Literature at the faculty of Al-Alsun (Languages), Ain Shams University in Cairo. I graduated in 2002. In 2004, I started my work at the faculty of Al-Alsun as a teaching assistant. I got the master’s degree in 2009. I got the doctoral degree in 2013. I have been working as a lecturer at the German Department of the Faculty of Al-Alsun since 2013.

When you aren’t translating, what do you like to do?

I like to teach. I enjoy teaching. I like to read books, play football, swim and watch movies.

Who are your favourite authors?

My favorite Arabian authors are Ahmed Mourad, Naguib Mahfouz, Alaa Alaswany, Mansoura Ez Eldin and Sona Allah Ibrahim.  My favorite authors from the German-speaking world are Heinrich Böll, Friedrich Schiller, Goethe, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Günter Grass, Jonas Lüscher, Christoph Peters and Viola Rohner.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak Arabic as mother tongue, German as first foreign language, English as second foreign language and a bit of Spanish.

What do you like best about the German language?

The German language is very complicated. But on the other hand, it is precise in formulation.

What do you like best about Arabic?

The Arabic language is the language of the Holy Qur’an. It is very rich in rhetoric, meaning and expression.

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