Another experience of interpreting


Recently, I wrote about a radio interview with an interpreter broadcast on the BBC World Service. This post concerns a very different experience of interpreting by a tribesman in Sudan. Despite the title of the book, strictly speaking, he is actually an interpreter, not a translator but do not allow that detail to put you off!

The Translator: a tribesman's memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari is a fascinating but harrowing read.

Daoud Hari relates the background to the unrest in Darfur. He paints a picture of peaceful village life where everyone knows everyone else - not only in their own village but also in villages across the desert. Respect is shown to the elders and life appears to be relatively harmonious until Sudanese government-backed militia come to murder, rape and burn.

Hari had led an "unconventional" life in his youth and 20s but as he says himself , "Poverty generously provides every man a colourful past."

His schooling and his unconventional life have taught him English and, when he escapes to Chad as a refugee, he volunteers as an interpreter and guide for TV crews and journalists travelling over the border to Sudan. It is on one of these missions that he is arrested for being a spy.

I was particularly struck by this man's generous world view - which may or may not be typically African, I don't know enough to decide. He sees all his tribespeople, whether he actually knows them personally or not, as his family and mourns for their pain as much as for that of his immediate family. He gives an insight into how conflicts between tribes were dealt with - away from villages and the vulnerable - and in a way that no one publicly lost face.

It is a moving and elegaic account of a way of life which, due to the genocide, is passing into history. In some ways, this book could be considered its epitaph.


This book sounds like it's right up my alley, and I look forward to picking up a copy. I appreciate your take on it, and am anxious to read about his unconventional journey.

Hello again.
It is not an easy read in places because the interpreter has some very unpleasant experiences but it certainly shows how different a linguist's life can be in another country.

I wonder, if you as an American, will spot a little British/American anomaly in the text?

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