14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2013
If you're thinking of reading more than one Mosteghanemi book, then you need to know that Bridges of Constantine and Memory in the Flesh are the same book. It's useful to know even if you're only interested in reading this one book, because the translations are so different that it'll make a big difference to your experience of her writing. Instead of reviewing the book (it's good, OK?) I'll just say something about the two versions. I'm not great at Arabic so I enlisted a Moroccan friend's help, and through the medium of French (the only language we both speak) we tried to get a feeling for how each English version represents the original Arabic - and yes his Arabic is Moroccan not Algerian but at least it's close, and more importantly it made him consider possible meanings more openly.
My understanding is that Memory in the Flesh is a very faithful translation of the original words and sentences. Not quite word-for-word, but aiming for that kind of accuracy. This gives the book a hard-edged feeling of precision, which in some of the more painful passages is like a knife. It really works for detail, and if you prefer your emotional turmoil pulled apart analytically then maybe this is the version for you.
Bridges of Constantine is attempting something very ambitious - to be faithful to the atmosphere of the book, to use the words that will make an English speaker feel the way an Arabic speaker would when reading the original; in other words, to translate the poetry. To me, it feels very unlike reading a translation at all, which is the biggest compliment I can give to the translator.
I can't recommend one over the other, surely it'll depend on your personal literary tastes. The best thing I can do it give you examples. Here are the opening lines from both versions, you'll probably be able to make a choice just from these short passages since they contain everything I'm trying to say in miniature.
Bridges of Constantine:
`What happened to us was love. Literature was all that did not happen.' I still remember the time you said that.
Now that everything is over, I can say: Congratulations to literature, then, on our tragedy. How vast the sweep of what did not happen, enough to fill several books. Congratulations to love too.
What happened, what didn't happen, what will never happen - all so beautiful.
Memory in the Flesh
I still remember you once saying, "What went on between us was real love. What didn't happen was the stuff of love stories."
Today, now that it is all over, I can say, "If that's the case, we're lucky that it's just in a book. However, what didn't happen could fill volumes. We're also lucky in the beauty of the love we did have. What will not happen is also beautiful.
See? You can see that it's the same book, but the emphasis is so different that the meaning seems to change. And the atmospheres are miles apart. Now from a few paragraphs later, this time with Memory in the Flesh first:
Constantine is a city that abhors shortcuts. It puts everything on permanent display. It wears its entire wardrobe and says all it knows. Even grief is a public festival there.
And the same passage in Bridges of Constantine:
Constantine is a city that hates economy in anything. She always displays what she has, just as she wears all she owns and says all she knows. That's why even sadness could hold a banquet in this city.
In fact, reading the two versions is a fantastic experience. It's like revisiting a city you lived in and loved after 20 years: you're certain you know the place, but it's not quite how you remember it. You get a little lost walking from your old flat to where your lover used to live, streets don't join up exactly as you thought, cafes are on different corners. It's still absolutely the city you remember, but you're simultaneously seeing things more clearly as they actually were, and seeing the reality before your eyes changed into something else. It's worth reading the book twice anyway, but reading it twice like this is magical.