“My Tale Is Too Long to Tell”

The Locust and the Bird between South Lebanon and New York City

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Michelle Hartman McGill University

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Ḥanān al-Shaykh’s 2005 memoir of her mother’s extraordinary life, Ḥikāyatī sharḥun yaṭūl (My Tale Is Too Long to Tell), changes significantly in its translation as The Locust and the Bird. In Arabic, Kāmilah narrates her life story through her daughter’s pen, using clever linguistic shifts of tone and register as well as a wicked sense of humor to convey her unconventional choices. It is a very local tale of life in South Lebanon. This article argues that the changes the text undergoes as it moves from Arabic into English refocus this novel and transform it into a work about transnational migration. Framing this study against the background of other Arab women’s novels that have undergone major changes in translation into English, I show how domesticating translation strategies operate to reinforce the text’s and the narrator’s difference and exoticism. While claiming to make the text “more accessible” to an English-language readership, domesticating translation moves in this novel—including a changed title, the addition of a foreword and an epilogue, and others—inscribe a deep sense of difference within this novel. More specifically, these translation changes layer emotional and physical estrangement as well as add the themes of exile and the American Dream into a memoir of a woman who rarely left South Lebanon.

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