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Irwin Block Discusses “Farida” With One of the Book’s Translators, Norman Cornett

faridaIn a recent article for The Senior Times, Irwin Block discusses Naïm Kattan’s Farida, released by Guernica Editions this spring. Block’s article focuses on a conversation about the novel with Professor Norman Cornett, the book’s principal translator alongside Antonio D’Alfonso. Cornett describes the circumstances surrounding the writing of the novel, “Kattan wrote this on the eve of the first Gulf War. He is a Jew, born in Baghdad, who stayed there and only left after the Second World War to study at The Sorbonne in Paris”. Kattan also points out how the novel depicts western imperial forces vying for control of Iraq, saying “at very key moments, Kattan will refer to Palestine and the dream and hope of establishing the State of Israel. You’re seeing this not from the West, but from the East, and what the hope of Israel means to Jews living ‘East of Eden’”. Block explains that Cornett was drawn to translating the novel because he believed that Kattan deserved broader recognition for his works, especially considering “he is one of the foremost writers in the francophone world, with 52 books to his credit, and only four that had been translated in English before Farida’”. By pointing to aspects of the book’s plot and Kattan’s own life experiences, Block concludes his article by asserting that Farida “is a reminder of how the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has shifted radically, with the Jewish presence of several thousand years, all but eliminated in Iraq and in Iran now down to about 10,000 now from 100,000 in 1948”. Cornett will read from the novel on September 24th, 7:30 PM at The Yellow Door located on 3625 Aylmer, Montreal.

Farida tells the story of a Jewish woman and cabaret singer struggling for survival and freedom in pre-World War II Iraq. It is described as a “classic love story”, full of “passion, jealousy and murder”.

Naïm Kattan was born in Iraq and moved to Montreal in 1954. He is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and critic, who has published more than 30 books. His works that have been translated into English include Farewell Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad, The Neighbour and Other Stories, Reality and Theatre, and A.M. Klein: Poet and Prophet.

Norman Cornett is an educator, religious studies scholar, and art critic. His translations have appeared in journals Canadian Literature, Rampike, Literary Review of Canada, ARC, and Windsor Review.

Antonio D’Alfonso is the author of over 30 books, including Un vendredi du mois d’août which won the Trillium Award in 2005. His feature film Bruco won best director award and best foreign film award at the New York International Independent Film Festival in 2010, and his most recent film Antigone won the Bronze award at the Prestige Film Festival.

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