Making the Kurdish translation of Shakespeare's Macbeth sound as good as the Old English original is one of the toughest challenges for two literature enthusiasts: Salah Ahmad Baban and Muhamad Tawfiq Ali.
Baban, a mechanical engineer by profession, who has now devoted his life to translation of literature and philosophy, started translating the Shakespearean classic three years ago. A year ago Ali started helping him with editing and annotations.
"We are opposites in some ways", Ali explained. "Salah is a prolific reader of Kurdish, Russian and Arabic literature but he had not previously done such major translation work, while most of my expertise is in translation".
Baban gives priority to the literary form of the target language, Kurdish, which he excels at. Ali, on the other hand, focuses on the closeness of the meaning to the source language, English. The former is a stickler for rhyme and rhythm, whereas, the latter is stickler for accuracy of the text. The ongoing tug of war between them makes the input time consuming but renders the output worthy of association with Shakespeare. The moral of the story is that in future projects they should reverse their roles with the latter translating first and the former paraphrasing it.
They are both from the generation born during World War Two, a period reminiscent of the present with a weak central government in Iraq. Their primary education was in Kurdish and intermediate and secondary education in Arabic in Iraq, followed by university and post graduate studies abroad.
Now both long time residents of the UK, they hope to complete the 'Kurdish Macbeth' in the autumn. A recent trip to Scotland acquainted them with 'Macbeth country' and they are now revising their final draft and comparing it with Russian and Arabic translations, including one by Salah Niazi. The scenery took them back in time to Shakespeare's era and in space to their homeland of Kurdistan.
No publisher has been found as yet but the classic is expected to be used in secondary schools and universities in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as by students and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the USA. The translators are also eagerly awaiting the reunification of the two administrations in Iraqi Kurdistan and hope the Ministries of Culture and Education will promote their work.
They, too, are concerned that young Kurdish people growing up in Iraqi Kurdistan are not learning Arabic and focus on Kurdish and English only.
Muhamad Tawfiq Ali was born at the beginning of World War Two in the small town of Ruwandiz in Iraqi Kurdistan. He received a scholarship to study civil engineering in the UK, where he has lived for most of his adult life. His interest in language led him to the study of linguistics in London, where he is a professional translator/interpreter. He has translated between English and Arabic and Kurdish (Sorani), mainly on a voluntary basis and occasionally as a freelance writer; his volumes Goran,Kudistanís Immortal Poet, A Short Biography and Selected Poems were published in Arabic in 1990. He also translated Saddamic Verses, an account of Saddam's treatment of the Kurds after the 1991 uprising, into Arabic. More recently, he provided, with the help of Salah and others, the Kurdish input to Iraqi Poetry Today, which was published by Kings College, London University, in March 2003.
Salah Ahmad Baban was born in the city of Sulaimaniyah in 1940. In 1949 the family moved to Baghdad. Baban received a scholarship to study mechanical engineering in Moscow. He returned to Baghdad in 1966. In 1971, he left for the UK where he has resided ever since. He received a doctorate in structural engineering in 1975 and was appointed Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Later he became self employed and his business and pleasure interests have taken him to visit many countries. Besides his native Kurdish (Sorani), Baban has also mastered Russian and is fluent in English and Arabic, with smatterings of Turkomani.
Please also visit: http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,904290,00.html