Since my arrival to the US in 2015, I have become increasingly obsessed with translation. I do not mean the academic philosophy of translation; not even a remotely textual notion of it. I have simply been reflecting on how to translate my being into an American context. Being surrounded by other foreigners, I quickly realized they were trying to do the same, to learn what to say, when to say it, and how to adjust their volume of speech and appropriate distance from other people’s faces during a conversation.
It’s common in Israel to joke about Israeli confident direct translation into English, resulting in expressions like “it was hot bombs” and “let’s talk postcards,” which will only make you laugh if you have access to the source language. Otherwise, they are just strange. What, then, about the common ugly, bigoted expressions? In this senseless direct translation, they too would lose most if not all meaning.
These thoughts led me to “go live with the Arabs.” In the dominant Israeli right-wing discourse, it has become popular to verbally “send” suspected leftists and other sorts of perceived threats to national security to reside with the Arabs, where their traitorous likes belong. I would need dozens of pages just to explain this expression, including its bitter irony and the sociopolitical failure it epitomizes. Instead, I decided to offer it up as is—senseless.
This was my entryway to convey something of the ever-untranslatable notion of childhood, of girlhood, especially in a foreign context—my foreign context. I decided not to try to properly translate the little girls of 1990s Israel, but rather to let them speak directly, strangely, in an English not their own. The English of those who see themselves as being so close to America that they are virtually part of it, when in fact they are as far as imaginably possible.
LITAL ABAZON is a PhD candidate at the Department of Comparative Literature at Yale University. She works on multilingual literature in Israel and the Maghreb. Her Hebrew poetry has been published in Ma’ayan Magazine. This is her first English literary publication.