I will keep hearing his singing: Tribute to Rifaat Atefeh

I will keep hearing his singing: Tribute to Rifaat Atefeh
I will keep hearing his singing: Tribute to Rifaat Atefeh
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I had, when I first started practicing translation from the Spanish language, two wings to fly with and fly, while I was in Damascus, over the worlds of Latin America and Spain. These two wings are Salih Alamani and Rifaat Atfa. At the time, I imagined that Atfa, in particular, was a bird flying over Syria and throughout the Arab world, but its singing extends to Spain and the Spanish-speaking world.

Refaat (who passed away yesterday, Monday, at the age of 76) was translating books as if he were translating stars. He turned every book he translated into an orchestra of words. His translations are a concerto, and his words are a linguistic dance in the air. His books, even those that seemed arduous and black in their mother tongue, Spanish, were waterfalls of light, in their second language, Arabic. This is how I learned from him that translation is a heart and chest that are open to embrace the whole world. This is how I learned from him that translation is, above all, love and an organic attachment to the body. Translation is two loves: a love for the body, and a love for the language.

Like his translated text, Rifaat Atfa’s life was another history of translation. The nearly seventy books he translated from Spanish into Arabic is a cultural achievement for young translators. What life remains for us to live, if we say we live, will not be the same after the loss of the translator of Don Quixote, Bohemian Lights, The Vermilion Codex, Granada Beni Nasr, and many, many others.

I have always seen him face, with equanimity, the repeated disappointments of Syrian life. His morning greetings, which he used to send, every day, to the list of names on his mobile phone, despite their differences, diversity and contradictions, show great openness to the other, highlight a high friendship like the friendship of air and grass, the sun and the sky. This is the translation in depth: openness to the different other.

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The world around me becomes less and more ugly. The world around me becomes less and more empty.

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Greetings to you, Rifaat Atefah, friend, translator and teacher.

* A Syrian poet and translator based in Spain

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