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UK students translate Fikry El Azzouzi’s ‘The Reward’

In early March 2020, author Fikry El Azzouzi visited Sheffield, Nottingham and London as the UK Guest Author 2020. Flanders Literature provided the travel grant. Just before the Covid restrictions kicked in, El Azzouzi worked with students of Dutch on a translation of his text, offered a workshop on writing columns, and gave a public reading and interview.

Rachel West, who studies Dutch at Nottingham University, took part in the intensive Translation Project: together with students at Sheffield and London she tackled an abstract from El Azzouzi’s latest novel, The Reward. Here is her report.

Students working together on one translation

“Three universities, twenty-one students and one book extract to translate from Dutch to English, a project aimed to promote cultural exports from Flanders while providing students an opportunity to gain real, hands-on experience in translation. The three universities with the last remaining Dutch language departments in the UK, The University of Sheffield, The University of Nottingham and University College London, collaborated on a translation project involving Fikry El Azzouzi’s ‘The Reward’ (De beloning). Despite the unexpected curveball of the Coronavirus outbreak, a complete commitment to the task prevailed. Here’s how we got on!

Getting going!

The students of the three universities were mixed into groups, introducing ourselves to one another (virtually!) and then getting to grips with 'The Reward' by award-winning author and playwright Fikry El Azzouzi. ‘The Reward’ revolves around themes of loss, identity, family and society. With cultural tension between the Belgian setting and the main characters’ Moroccan roots and the witty satire that kicks life into the dialogue, this 2019 novel was a great challenge for us final year Dutch students.

Teamwork makes the translation work

First, we all completed an individual translation. Standard translation practice applied, the ultimate aim being to preserve the precise meaning of the source text as much as possible which is easier said than done. Cultural factors, the plot, the nature of the characters and their relationships with one another, as well as El Azzouzi’s lively writing style all had to be taken into account with every translated word, sentence and paragraph. Every translation task involves a lot of difficult decision-making and so we were especially fortunate to have professional translators Jonathan Reeder and Alice Tetley-Paul on hand, who kindly offered advice and assistance as we gradually worked towards creating a combined team translation. After much debate and deliberation, as well as the occasional “phone a friend”-style query to Alice or Jonathan, each group submitted a final translation of their section.

Online translation workshop
Online discussion with the translation students and Fikry EL Azzouzi

A world-wide webcam conference

On Wednesday 18th March, all of this hard work culminated in a video conference with Fikry, Jonathan, Alice, all of us students and our lecturers. Covid-19 may have prevented us from assembling in Sheffield as planned, but it did not prevent us from discussing the project via webcam! The video conference proved highly productive as we began working through any queries that arose in each group’s section. Many of these were important to other groups too – a particular word choice made in one section might also need to be made in another. We were keen not to “over Anglicise” the text where culture and national identity are notably crucial themes.

And thus the project progressed – from one mind, to five, to more like twenty-five, our team spirit grew and our translations improved. It was great to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and hear new perspectives, and we felt especially lucky to have the author there to approve our suggestions and offer alternatives. Each section therefore became a part of something bigger and ensuring consistency and continuity became a new priority in our work.

Final steps

The sections were then combined to form one entire excerpt in English – it’s really satisfying to see a final version that reflects all of our blood, sweat and tears. Two of the students from the project, John Cairns (Sheffield) and Emily Green (Nottingham) formed the editorial team and were tasked with making any final changes with the help of Jonathan and Alice. And just like that, the project was complete!

Thank you to the Dutch Language Union and Flanders Literature for making the Dutch Translation Project possible. Thank you to our tutors, Christine Sas (UCL), Bram Mertens (Nottingham) and coordinator Henriette Louwerse (Sheffield). And of course a huge thank you to Fikry El Azzouzi, Alice Tetley-Paul and Jonathan Reeder. May this project continue for a long time, so that more students can benefit from real-world translation experience, great literature and wonderful community spirit.”

Apr 28th, 2020