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INTERVIEW WITH THE EGYPTIAN TRANSLATOR ABU BAKR YOUSSEF HUSSEIN

Key words: Abu Bakr Youssef Hussein, Russian literature, Arabic literature

Abu Bakr Youssef Hussein-translator of Russian and Soviet literature, member of the Union of Arab Writers (Damascus), honorary member of the Union of Writers of Russia.

Originally from Egypt. In 1964, he graduated from the

1964-1967-Lecturer of Russian language and Literature at Ain Shams University (Cairo).

1969-1974-translator and literary editor of the newspaper Anba Mosku (Arabic edition of the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti). 1974-1991-translator of the highest category in the publishing houses "Progress" ).

1994-2002-Correspondent of Al-Majallah (London), Al-Shurukh and Al-Khalij (UAE).

1998-2000-Correspondent of the MVS satellite channel (London). Since 2007 , he has been Rusia al-Yaum (Russia Today).

Tell us, how did you develop an interest in Russian culture and the Russian language? What influenced the choice of profession? Why did you decide to follow the path of a translator?

- I started to get acquainted with Russian literature when I was still a schoolboy. I really liked the work of I. S. Turgenev "Asya", which I read in translation. Unfortunately, we didn't study foreign literature in the school curriculum, and I didn't know much about Russian literature. After finishing school, I took part in a competition held by the Egyptian Ministry of Education, and I was lucky enough to go to study in the USSR. At the Faculty of Philology of Moscow State University, I began to study Russian and later was able to read a lot of works of Russian literature, but in the original. Every year I studied at the university, my interest in Russian culture increased more and more. Because of my passion for Anton Chekhov, my friends jokingly called me "Anton Pavlovich". In my senior year, I had a desire to translate into Arabic the works of Russian classics that I had already read in the original. The dream came true a little later when I returned to Egypt, where I started teaching at the Faculty of Foreign Languages of Ain Shams University in Cairo. That was when the first translation attempts were made.

Tell us about your student years. Who were your mentors in learning Russian language and literature?

- I was very lucky that I came to study in the USSR in the early 1960s. These were the years of the "thaw" - the development of new ideas. The atmosphere was filled with hope and a desire for a better life. I felt that people were fluttering, not walking on the ground. My student years were spent at one of the best universities in the country - Moscow State University. The teaching staff was then at the highest level. Among my teachers, I would like to mention Professor S. I. Radzig on ancient literature, Professor V. I. Kuleshov on the history of Russian literature of the XIX century, and Professor N. M. Shansky on the Russian language. They treated us, foreign students, warmly and kindly, taught us with enthusiasm, as if they considered it their main duty to help us master the Russian language. I am grateful to them. We shared all the difficulties in learning Russian language and literature with Russian students. They were our mentors and helped us with our homework. I experienced great joy and satisfaction from the learning process.

Did you manage to attract your students to Russian literature while teaching at Ain Shams University?

- Difficult question... The fact is that at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, in addition to the Department of Russian, there were also departments of European languages - English, German, etc.Many applicants entered there already with certain language skills that they received at school. But the Russian language at the faculty had to be studied from the basics, from the alphabet. Therefore, it was difficult to arouse their interest in Russian literature, because this requires a good knowledge of the Russian language. In addition, the lack of a language environment affected.

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In the 3rd-4th years, I was able to attract the most talented students to Russian literature. They showed an interest in the works of Russian classics. Many of them went to Moscow for a summer internship.

Tell us about your work in the publishing houses "Progress"and " Rainbow". Has everything planned been implemented? What achievements would you like to celebrate as a translator?

- I returned to Russia to write my dissertation. I entered the publishing house Progress, which translated Russian literature into more than 50 languages, on purpose. My goal was to continue my translation career, which I started at the university in Cairo. I would like to point out that we didn't have much choice in terms of transfers. The editorial staff distributed a specific plan to employees-a list of references for the year. From the very beginning, I decided to focus on literary translation, although Progress also produced socio-political literature.

While working in a publishing house, I had some ideas. When I started trying to translate poetry, I suggested publishing a collection that would contain the poems of one Russian poet (previously, a collection of works by various poets was published). So, I wanted to publish in one book, translated into Arabic, the poetry of A. Blok. Unfortunately, I was not able to implement this idea. But the publishing house (and later I went to work at Raduga) offered me to prepare a translation of the collected works of Anton Chekhov in 4 volumes. A collection of the works of one writer in several volumes was then a novelty for the publishing house. This work took 2 years. Later, I suggested publishing an additional 2 volumes of Chekhov's works: the 5th volume should include short stories that were not included in the 1st volume, and the 6th should be devoted to Chekhov's personal correspondence. Emails allow you to better see a person from the inside, their feelings, and their life position. I wanted to tell the Arab reader as much as possible about this wonderful writer. Unfortunately, this idea was not approved. Apparently, because the increase in the volume of translations of fiction could not go to the detriment of a decrease in the volume of socio-political literature.

Thus, it was thanks to you that the works of Anton Chekhov were translated from Russian into Arabic for the first time. How did this Russian writer enter your life and professional career?

- I have a special bond with Chekhov. The year I arrived in Moscow marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of this writer. In one of the bookstores I bought long-playing records with his works. With my friends, students from other Arab countries, we tried to listen every day and memorize new words. I especially liked the story "The Lady with the Dog". They learned whole passages from this work by heart. So I decided to try translating this wonderful story. What was my surprise when I finished the job! There was no longer any of the charm of the story, which was undoubtedly felt in the original language, in the translation. It was something else, but not Chekhov's work. Indignantly, I tore my work into small pieces and decided not to return to this idea until I graduated from university.

I had a chance to translate Chekhov again at the Progress publishing house. One of my first works was a separate collection of Chekhov's short stories. Of course, "The Lady with the Dog" was also among them. 20 years have passed between the events he described. This is exactly the time it took me to master the art of translation.

You have a special love and admiration for Alexander Pushkin. Why did he become your favorite poet?

- Alexander Pushkin was and remains my idol. I got acquainted with his works as a student, when I attended seminars of the famous Soviet Pushkinist S. M. Bondi. I remember very well: the halls were always full of listeners, there were no empty seats. Many people specially came to Moscow for seminars - I saw in their eyes a special love for Pushkin, admiration for his work. I also fell in love with this brilliant poet, I was fascinated by his compositions, as if filled with music.

When I worked in the editorial office of the newspaper "Anba Mosku", the windows of our room looked out on the monument to A. S. Pushkin. There were always flowers, especially on the poet's birthday. People went to the monument, and I went with them. It was a special honor for me.

Later he translated several poems of this great creator and the story "Dubrovsky".

In the piggy bank of your translations, you can also find translations of books for the youngest children. In your opinion, are the approaches to educating the younger generation similar in Russian and Arabic literature for children?

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- While working in publishing houses, I also translated children's literature. I remember that there were always positive responses from Arab readers. I was even called a "children's writer", which appealed to me, because I love children very much.

Literature for the youngest in the Soviet Union was published in millions of copies, and writers were highly respected in society, they were known and loved. In Egypt, and in other Arab countries, there were few children's writers, and they were not so popular. Previously, there was a series of books "My Library", which published stories for children, mainly translations of famous works of foreign literature.

Of course, there are general principles and approaches. In Egypt, books for children also try to educate their readers on heroic examples, on real events from history.

Translations of works about the Great Patriotic War occupy a special place in your creative activity. Why did you decide to introduce this topic to the Arab reader?

- When I was working in a publishing house, I always tried to use my essays about the war for translation. As a translator, it was very important for me to know everything about this war. In my translations, I had to convey to the Arabic reader its "spirit", its character. As a student, I watched a huge number of war films, thanks to which I learned about the terrible victims of the Second World War, about the offensives of the Soviet Army, and the truth of life in the rear. In my scientific work, based on the material of K. Simonov's novels, I touched upon the theme of heroism in the literature about the Second World War.

Tell us about your idea of creating an Arab cultural center in Moscow in the early 1990s.

- I and my friends had the idea of creating an Arab cultural center when I was still a student. Cultural ties between the USSR and the Arab world were growing stronger, and a center was needed that would organize exhibitions, round tables, screenings of Arab films, etc.In 1991, our initiative group of representatives of the Russian and Arab sides organized the Arab cultural and business club in Moscow. The club existed at the expense of funds received from business activities, 10% of which went to support the cultural program. No Arab embassy participated in the financing. Unfortunately, the club didn't last even one year.

As far as I know, there is still no such cultural center registered in Russia, particularly in Moscow. However, the Russian-Arab Business Council (RABC) is active in the Russian capital, and there are separate small clubs and centers, such as the Arab House Center for Arab Culture.

You actively cooperate with the Cairo weekly Ah-bar al-Adab (Literary News). Tell us about your recent publications in this publication.

- Yes, I have been working with this publication for a long time. I used to publish a lot in this weekly: the editor-in-chief was then my friend, the famous Egyptian writer Gamal al-Ghitani. My articles were devoted to the works of Bulgakov, Sholokhov, and many Soviet writers. Now I also write, but not so much anymore. One of my most recent publications is a translation of the short story "Dostoevsky's Shadow"by the Russian writer A. S. Suvorin. I was attracted by the originality of this piece, it is filled with mystical notes. Although, I would say that this short essay is a kind of memory of the writer Dostoevsky. After the publication, there were a lot of reviews. I am glad that Arab readers are interested in Russian literature.

What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to introduce modern Russian fiction and journalism to Arab readers?

- In 2006, the National Translation Center in Egypt invited me to implement my long-standing idea-to prepare the complete works of Anton Chekhov. The collection was to include a 4-volume collection of works that I had translated earlier in the Progress publishing house, and 8 more volumes that I was to work with. Unfortunately, due to the time frame, I did not agree to this project: it is impossible to make a high-quality translation of 8 volumes in 3 years.

Times are changing, and my translation work is now, unfortunately, faded into the background. I have devoted myself entirely to journalism. But my idea is to translate at least Chekhov's work "Sakhalin Island". I'm starting this job now. The writer had a special attitude to the island, "the island of impossible suffering," as he himself said. In my opinion, this work will arouse wide interest among the public reading foreign literature.

As for modern examples of fiction, I would like to note the following. The current literary process is now subordinated to a different idea, pursues slightly different goals. You won't believe it, but I can't find a work that I think is worthy of translation, although I would like to translate something from the fiction of new Russia into Arabic. New books that are now actively advertised are translations of best-selling books in English and French. Books by Russian authors are mainly a series of romance novels, thrillers, and detective stories.

I've translated journalism before, but I don't plan to work in that direction right now. I still consider myself more of a translator of fiction.

Evaluate the "counter process" - translation and publication in Russia of works by Egyptian and Arab writers in general. What novelties of Arabic literature can be found in

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can they be of interest to Russian readers?

- Over the past 20 years, many works of Arabic writers have appeared in Russia in translation into Russian, including modern ones, representatives of the new generation. For example, as novelties-the latest translations published in Russian-the bestseller of the contemporary Egyptian writer Ala al-Aswani "The House of the Jacobian" (2008) , his "Chicago" (2012); the works of the greatest Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz "The Triumph of the Sublime" (2008) and " The Journey of Ibn Fattouma "(2009Saudi Arabian writer Hani Naqshabandi's Confessions of an Arab Woman (2009) and One Night in Dubai (2010); "Demons of the Desert" by the contemporary Libyan novelist Ibrahim al-Quni (2010) and others.

I should note that the "counter-process" in Russia currently rests mainly on the private initiative of foundations and various humanitarian organizations.

- Do Egyptian writers show interest in the events of the "Arab Spring" and do these events find their reflection in contemporary fiction?

- Of course, the socio-political literature is full of headlines related to the events of the "Arab Spring". Although, now, in my opinion, political scientists, experts, and journalists are trying to analyze events somewhat superficially and "hot on the heels".

The legendary At-Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo has become not only a place for expressing one's civic position, but also a "platform for creativity".

I think that in a decade's time we will be able to truly assess the consequences of what is happening in the Arab world right now. Of course, this will form the basis of many works of fiction, in particular by Egyptian writers, and will leave a noticeable mark on modern Arabic literature.

You have been living in Moscow for many years. What close and far corners of our country did you manage to visit? Have you seen firsthand the rural landscapes and rural life that have become key in the works of many Russian writers and poets?

- I drove around Lermontov's places in the Caucasus. During the Soviet era, I visited Crimea several times. I recently went to the Urals. However, I would really like to go to Siberia again. I plan to definitely visit there. I had the idea to write a book about Russia. It will be written by me as a foreigner who has lived in this country for a long time. I witnessed several changes of power and the collapse of the USSR. During my time at the Progress publishing house, I was lucky enough to translate something similar to my idea into Arabic. Have you read the book "Egypt and the Egyptians"by the orientalist and writer A. M. Vasiliev?* The name speaks for itself. It is about Egypt, the national character of the Egyptians, their religions, customs and customs. I would like to speak at the same high level about Russia, about the people I met, about life in this country, about important historical milestones and the cultural component.

I was also inspired to write the book by the essay on 19th-century Russia, "A Gift to the Smart with messages about the country of Russia"** by Muhammad at-Tantawi , an Egyptian scholar, professor, and specialist in Arabic language and literature, who worked for a long time at St. Petersburg University (now St. Petersburg State University).

In May 2012. By decree of the President of Russia, you received a government award-the A. S. Pushkin Medal "For your great contribution to the preservation and popularization of the Russian language and culture abroad". What does this award mean to you?

- Of course, a huge value. This award is for me as a recognition of my work, my translations, which help the Arabic reader to get acquainted with the great Russian culture. Recognition at such a high level always causes a sense of pride.

The medal is named after a great Russian genius, the founder of Russian classical literature, for whom I have a special love and admiration.


Vasiliev A. M. Egypt and the Egyptians (in Russian, and Arabic, languages). The book was published in Russian in 1986, the 2nd edition - in 2000. The 3rd edition (2008) is supplemented with impressions of new trips to the banks of the Nile and reflects the changes in Egypt and in the life of Egyptians over the past thirty yearsed.).

** "Tuhfat al-azkiyah bi-akhbar bilad Rusiyah". For more information, see: Krachkovsky I. Y. Sheikh Tantavi. Izbr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow-L., 1958, pp. 229-299.


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