Friday, December 12, 2014

Tribute to Iraqi Jew who translated the Koran

 It might come as a surprise to learn that the most popular translation of the Koran into English (Penguin has published over 70 editions) is by a Jew. N J Dawood, who was born in Baghdad,  died last month, aged 86. An outstanding scholar,  like the late political scientist Elie Kedourie, he was a natural writer in English, although it was not his mother tongue. Extract from his Telegraph obituary (with thanks: Michelle):

Nessim Joseph Dawood was born in Baghdad on August 27 1927 into an Iraqi-Jewish family. His father was a merchant who had served as an officer in the Ottoman army. Nessim’s skills as a translator developed at school, when his Arabic renderings of English short stories were published in Iraqi newspapers.
On leaving school in 1944, he was awarded an Iraqi state scholarship to London University, which had been evacuated from the capital during the war. He therefore studied for degrees in English Literature and Arabic at the University College of the South West, in Exeter.

After graduating, he worked briefly as an English teacher and as a journalist, while toying with the idea of translating Shakespeare into Arabic.

His life took a different turn, however, after he attended a talk by E V Rieu, the translator of The Iliad and The Odyssey and founding editor of the Penguin Classics series. Rieu spoke of a new approach to translation which sought to capture the spirit of the original text and was not just about accuracy but about good writing.

Dawood immediately wrote to Rieu enclosing the prologue to The Thousand And One Nights that he had translated into English from the original Arabic. In the next post he received a letter offering him a contract.

NJ Dawood z''l
His first translation, The Thousand and One Nights: The Hunchback, Sindbad and Other Tales, was published in 1954 and was so effortlessly fluent that readings and dramatic adaptations were broadcast on BBC radio, recorded by Terence Tiller. A further selection, Aladdin and Other Tales, was published in 1957, also in the Penguin Classics series. In 1973 both books were combined into a single volume, which remains in print.

After publication of The Koran, Dawood enrolled at University College London for a PhD in English, but had to abandon his studies after six months when he could not afford to continue. Instead he began working as a commercial translator, and in 1959 founded his own company, the Arabic Advertising and Publishing Company (now Aradco VSI).

Read article in full

1 comment:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

an Algerian Nazi collaborator, in the Milice -- an Algerian who went from Nazis to FLN