In a recent radio interview on The Zelda Young Show, Professor Norman Cornett speaks about Naim Kattan’s Farida. He elaborates on the life and writing of Naim Kattan, on the thematic concerns of the novel, and on literature’s ability to makes readers aware of issues and realities which pertain to culture and identity.
The English translation of Farida by Naim Kattan trans. Prof. Norman Cornett and Antonio D’Alfonso was published by Guernica Editions in 2015.
Cornett explains that he met Naim Kattan in his dialogic sessions, and that he was pulled to translate Farida into English in order to bring a vision of a different reality of Iraqi history to an English readership.
“The best way to meet Naim Kattan is through his writing… [in class] we would go through his writings and at the end of a novel he would walk in.. we could have a collective conversation about his experience [both] as a writer and as an Iraqi Jew.”
He elaborates on why he chose to translate Kattan’s Farida into English: “I watch the news every night and as I saw Iraq from Desert Storm until now…keeping in mind Isis, keeping in mind the Americans in Iraq, keeping in mind Saddam Hussain, I said, ‘look…Iraq is daily news… could we get another vision of Iraq that would help us understand a country that goes back millennia and one of the key populations in that civilization– the Jewish-Iraqi community?”
Furthermore, Cornett speaks about Farida’s central figure, a Jewish songstress who is significant in setting up this alternate vision of Iraq in the novel.
“[Farida] is a singer. In some respects, she’s modelled on Arabic singer Umm Kulthum… she is also modelled on Ester from the bible. [Farida] is a stunning beauty and the man that means the most to her in life has been falsely accused… she must use all of her artistry to save not only the man she loves but the family and the community that mean the most to her.”
Cornett points out that the vision of Iraq portrayed in Farida relates to Kattan’s own experience as an Iraqi-Jew.
“Through the vehicle of creative writing, [Naim Kattan] is bringing front and centre the issues [in Iraq], and for me as a historian by training what struck me is that he’s giving us a mirror of his world as he knew it… he realizes that the handwriting is on the wall for Iraq… this is his way of coming to terms with his heritage as an Iraqi-Jew… he’s writing Farida as the First Gulf War takes place.”
He goes on to stress the significance of Naim Kattan’s novel in education, and its ability to bring awareness to students.
“The way to make them aware is to make Naim Kattan’s books available in English. The whole point of education is to give students peripheral vision so that they can see the big picture. That means they have to have engaging text, narratives that strike their passions. [Naim Kattan] does it…he doesn’t hold back .”
Cornett stresses that, despite the fact that Kattan’s book is a work of fiction, it is capable of making readers aware of historical reality. He further explains how this relates to the reality of creative writing, which is a task that takes much productivity, much more discipline, than pure inspiration.
“Naim Kattan is weaving a beautiful story that integrates as much facts as it does fiction to come out in a new synthesis that engages the reader… we often think of creative writing as.. [stemming] from some divine intervention. Creativity goes hand in hand with discipline. There are few writers more disciplined than Naim Kattan. Creativity and discipline—now that’s a lesson for my students.”
Listen to the full interview here:
Naim Kattan’s Farida is available for purchase on the Guernica Editions website: http://www.guernicaeditions.com/title/9781771830386