Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #9

حَقيقة

root: ح-ق-ق / noun / plural: حَقائِق / definition: reality, truth


Well, well, well… it’s been quite a while since we had a literature translation post, hasn’t it? (On consulting the calendar, that “while” appears to be nearly six months—time must have taken a shortcut somewhere…)

Time anxiety aside, in this post we’ll be going word-by-word through a short extract from Naguib Mahfouz’s novel العائش في الحقيقة (literally: “Living in Reality”).

As usual, we’ll keep the translations quite literal and then make things sound better at the very end. Here’s the extract:

تُرى كيف تعاني وحدتها وذكرياتها؟! وسرعان ما استعدت ذكريات صباي في قصر أبي بـ(سايس)، وحوار الكبار المحموم حول الإعصار الذي أطاح بأرض مصر


(For context: the narrator just mentioned Nefertiti (نفرتيتي) in the previous line, and now his mind is wandering.)


Let’s deal with the first sentence to start with:

!تُرى كيف تعاني وحدتها وذكرياتها؟

تُرى

root: ر-ء-ي

تُرى is a passive verb derived from the root ر-ع-ي, which carries meanings related to “seeing”

but تُرى—or more frequently, يا تُرى—is simply used to mean “I wonder”

كيف

كَيفَ = “how”

تعاني

root: ع-ن-ي

form III verb, present tense, third person, feminine singular

عانى / يُعاني = “to suffer/endure”

so تُعاني means “she suffers/endures” and is referring to نفرتيتي (who, as mentioned above, the narrator is thinking about)

وحدتها

components: وَحدة + ها

root: و-ح-د

وَحْدة = “loneliness”

(note how this word comes from the same root as the word for “one”: واحِد)

ها = the possessive pronoun meaning “her”

وحدتها is the object of the verb تعاني (together, they mean “she endures her loneliness”), so therefore, the noun is منصوب and takes a fatha: وحدتَها

وذكرياتها

components: و + ذِكرايات + ها

وَ = “and”

ذِكرايات is a plural noun from the root ذ-ك-ر, meaning “memories”—the singular form is ذِكرى

ها = “her”

like with the previous noun, ذكراياتها is also an object of the verb, and thus is also منصوب—however, feminine plurals never take fatha or fathatayn; when they’re منصوب, they take either kasra or kasratayn

here, it would be kasra as there’s an attached possessive pronoun, so: ذكراياتِها


Let’s put that first sentence together:


!تُرى كيف تعاني وحدتها وذكرياتها؟

I wonder how she endures her loneliness and her memories?!


Second part:

وسرعان ما استعدت ذكريات صباي في قصر أبي بـ(سايس)

وسرعان ما

components: و + سرعان + ما

و = “and”

سرعانَ ما (where سرعان can have either a fatha, damma, or kasra on its first letter—it’s always damma in my head though) is a phrase meaning “soon”, “before long”, or “in no time”—and this phrase was actually the star of the first ever Wehr Wednesdays post!

سرعان comes from the root س-ر-ع—just like the words سُرعة (“speed”) and سَريع (“fast”)

the adverbial phrase سرعان ما is always followed by a verb

استعدت

root: ع-و-د

form X verb, past tense, first person singular

اِستَعادَ / يَستَعيدُ = “to recall”

so اِستَعَدتُ = “I recalled”

note that this verb has the same root as عَودة (meaning “return”), so the form X verb literally means “to seek to return/to bring back”

ذكريات

this word came up in the first part too: ذِكرايات = “memories”

here, ذكرايات is the object of the verb before it, and also part of a two-word, definite إضافة with the following noun—therefore, it is منصوب and takes a kasra (remember: feminine plurals can’t take fatha!)

صباي

components: صِبا + ـي

root: ص-ب-و

صِبا (also spelt صِبى) = “childhood”

ـي = the possessive pronoun suffix for “my”

putting the إضافة together: ذكرايات صباي = “memories of my childhood”

في

في is a preposition meaning “in”

قصر

root: ق-ص-ر

noun

قَصر = “castle” or “palace”

seeing as it’s directly after a preposition, it has be مجرور

but it can’t take tanween as it’s the first word of a two-word, definite إضافة, and therefore just takes a kasra: قصرِ

أبي

components: أب + ـي

أب = “father”

ـي = “my”

together, قصرِ أبي = “my father’s castle/palace”

بـ(سايس)

بـ = a preposition meaning “in” (it can also mean “with” or “by”, depending on the context)

سايِس = the name of a city


Bringing that together, we get:

وسرعان ما استعدت ذكريات صباي في قصر أبي بـ(سايس)

and soon/before long, I recalled memories of my childhood in my father’s palace in Sais


Last section now:

وحوار الكبار المحموم حول الإعصار الذي أطاح بأرض مصر

وحوار

components: و + حوار

و = “and”, as we know

as for حِوار, it’s a noun from the root ح-و-ر and means “conversation” or “dialogue”

this noun is linked to ذكرايات, which we saw earlier, in a kind of long-distance إضافة—above we saw ذكرايات صباي (“memories of my childhood”) and then some extra info and now we have وحوار (“…and (memories of) the conversation”)

so حوار would be مجرور as it’s a non-initial word in this إضافة

it’s also not the final word, seeing as the following noun is part of the إضافة too

الكبار

components: الـ + الكِبار

الـ = the definite article

كِبار is a plural noun (the singular form of which is كبير, from the root ك-ب-ر) and it means “important people” or “chiefs, or simply “adults”

seeing as it’s a non-initial word in the إضافة, it’s مجرور too

وحوارِ الكبارِ = “and the conversation of the chiefs”

المحموم

root: ح-م-م

adjective, passive participle of the form I verb

مَحموم = “frantic/hectic”

this adjective is describing the noun حوار in the إضافة, and therefore has to match it in definiteness (both have الـ), number (singular), gender (masculine), and case (مجرور)

وحوارِ الكبارِ المحمومِ = “the frantic conversation of the chiefs”

حول

حَولَ is a preposition meaning “around” or “about”

here, its meaning is like that of عن: “about (a topic)”

الإعصار

root: ع-ص-ر

noun

إعصار = “hurricane/tornado”

الـ = the definite article

الإعصار is مجرور here because it directly follows a preposition, so it’s الإعصارِ

الذي

الذي is the relative pronoun introducing the relative clause about الإعصار—remember that we need to have a relative pronoun when the noun the clause is describing is definite

الَّذي is the masculine singular relative pronoun, matching الإعصار

we can translate الذي as “which” or “that”

أطاح

root: ط-و-ح

form IV verb, past tense, third person, masculine singular

أَطاح / يُطيح بِـ = “to sweep/carry (something) away”

the subject of أطاح is الإعصار

بأرض

components: بِـ + أَرض

as mentioned, بِـ is the preposition that follows the noun أَطاح, attaching to the object of the verb

أَرض is (surprise, surprise) the object of the verb

أَرض = “land”

أرض is in an إضافة relationship with the following noun, and is مجرور seeing as it follows a preposition (بـِ)

مصر

مِصر = “Egypt”

مِصر is a diptote (ممنوع من الصرف) so it can’t take tanween nor a kasra—when it’s مجرور (which it is here, because it’s the second word of the إضافة), it takes a fatha

so أرض مصرَ = “the land of Egypt”


So that gives us:

وحوار الكبار المحموم حول الإعصار الذي أطاح بأرض مصر

and the frantic conversation of the chiefs about the hurricane that swept away the land of Egypt


Now, it’s time to put all of those literal translations together:

تُرى كيف تعاني وحدتها وذكرياتها؟! وسرعان ما استعدت ذكريات صباي في قصر أبي بـ(سايس)، وحوار الكبار المحموم حول الإعصار الذي أطاح بأرض مصر

I wonder how she endures her loneliness and her memories?! And soon/before long, I recalled memories of my childhood in my father’s palace in Sais, and the frantic conversation of the chiefs about the hurricane that swept away the land of Egypt


…and now let’s polish it up a bit:

تُرى كيف تعاني وحدتها وذكرياتها؟! وسرعان ما استعدت ذكريات صباي في قصر أبي بـ(سايس)، وحوار الكبار المحموم حول الإعصار الذي أطاح بأرض مصر

I wonder, how can she endure the torment of loneliness and her memories?! And with that, recollections of my childhood in my father’s palace in Sais came flooding back, along with memories of the chiefs’ frantic talks about the hurricane that devastated Egypt


Translation notes:

  • I decided to add the word “torment” in the first sentence to really emphasise the “suffering” aspect of the word تعاني. I also changed the structure to make it more interrogative, it just sounds a little more natural to me.
  • One of the things I changed in the second sentence was that I substituted “memories” with “recollections”—to avoid repeating the same word as in the previous sentence. But then I also added “memories” when it came to “the chiefs’ frantic talks” to make that long-distance إضافة clearer.
  • At the end, I changed the translation of أطاح بـ to “devastated” rather than “swept away”. At first, I just changed “swept away” to “swept”, but I feel like that didn’t capture the destruction implied by the verb, so “devastated” felt like a better fit here.

And that’s it!

I hope this was useful and a reminder that anyone can read (and understand) Arabic literature—it just might take a little patience at first.

If you’re craving some more literature posts, don’t forget to check out both the reading literature (for interesting literary vocab) and literature translation series (for more posts like this).

And don’t forget: if you enjoy reading the posts on The Arabic Pages, please consider showing your support and help me continue creating original content twice a week (while doing a master’s!). There’s also a new exclusive post coming soon for those who are members!

See you on my next post,

!في أمان الله


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