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Review of the book of death by Jamia alumni Khalid, Naseeb Khan

By virtue of its humanitarian attitude, political, social and economic concerns, and also its interest in the Indian subcontinent life as well as providing an insight into composite Indian culture and so on, Urdu fiction and poetry have arrested the attention of the British, American, Indian and Pakistani translators. Both these genres have witnessed a remarkable spurt in the field of translation during the last three decades. The Book of Death is a noticeable addition to the vast array of literature in translation.

The Book of Death, translated version of an Urdu novel Maut ki Kitab,‘encompasses’ as A Naseeb Khan writes in the ‘Translator’s Notes’, ‘a wide spectrum of issues – man’s bewilderment, paranoid delusions, existential angst…, patriarchal oppression, agonies of a truncated family and fractured social order, violence against women…and so on.’ Naseeb further writes, ‘striking a sinister note, the novel opens with a graphic description of the menacingly furious moon, giving a hint that some natural catastrophe is likely to hit the world. Remarkably, it also ends with Nature in fury – the protagonist sitting in a ditch with the suicide ‘resting in the shoe’ is exposed to the raging fury of the fierce rainstorm that threatens the ditch to become a deluge and annihilate him from surface of the earth. Apparently, the story of a boy whose head is violently hit while he is in his mother’s womb, the novel aspires to narrate the trauma of a man with anguished body and mind, and also underscores the conquest of gritty determination over ferocious brutality, depression and despondency. The protagonist who once retreated in the corner of a dark room owing to the peril posed by the looming storm and earthquake is at last adequately emboldened to counter the wrath of Nature threatening to wipe him off the map. Equipped with fortitude and resilience, he demonstrates true grit to stand up the afflictions and cruelties perpetrated on him. He grows so remarkably pragmatic and worldly-wise that he tames and domesticates even suicide abetting him to end his life.’

‘Exuding energy’ as the translator writes, ‘the novel also aspires to explore the lives and feelings of the subaltern and the marginalized represented by the protagonist who feel threatened and dwarfed in the world where his desires and existence seem to be of no consequence.’

As regards the problems faced during the translation, Naseeb states, ‘Since the novel is embedded in its literary and socio-cultural conventions and other feathers, I encountered various types of issues and problems during the translation. I have made an effort, though not without affecting its discourse values, to negotiate with them in the light of different strategies and principles of translation. They emboldened me to set out to undertake the challenging task of mediating between the author and the target readers, between his text and the target text, between the translator and the readers, and also between the author and the translator. With an effort to preserve the imagery, and produce different layers of meanings, I have retained some words like ‘sufi’, ‘wali’, ‘dervish’, ‘dupatta’, bindiya’, ‘karva chauth’, etc. as they are, because the target language does not possess the words representing their semantic properties and the same religious, social and cultural values. Let us take, for example, the word ‘dupatta’. Representing a material culture, the word ‘dupatta’ has been substituted for ‘scarf’ by most of the translators. But it is not in full proximity with the word ‘dupatta’ because ‘dupatta’ is conventionally worn not only around the head, shoulder and neck but also around the bosoms. I have opted for the word ‘dupatta’ so that it can capture the intended meaning and create precise response. Moreover, the source text explicitly suggests here in the novel covering of the bosoms – ‘Seated beside her, I look fixedly at her dupatta slipping bit by bit from her bosoms.’

Anybook needs to be congratulated on the publication of the translation of this important novel. We hope the novel will be widely read and treasured.

Suicide Resting in the Shoe
The Book of Death
Khalid Jawed
Translated by A Naseeb Khan
Published by Anybook

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One comment

  1. The review is focused more on translator rather than author and the novel highlighting difficulties of translation and other notes of translator. I am not much impressed as I believe that it could be much focused on the novel itself as it is truly a landmark novel in the sphere of contempory​ Urdu novels.

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