No longer lost in translation

In Arabic, to say "good morning" to someone is a dance of metaphors. The greeter might open, "A morning of good (to you)" and will hear in response, "A morning of light (to you)," which might garner, "A morning of flowers (to you)" as a further rejoinder.

It sounds lyrical and poetic in Arabic. But rather florid, Shakespearean, and excessive in English. It's no wonder Saddam Hussein's speeches made him sound like a modern King Lear.

So much in translation doesn't translate. Rhythms and metaphors are often ground out of a text in the process, making the literal result a listless copy of the rich original.

For a group of exiled writers in London, the written word is their most vital means of expression. And yet they find themselves asylumed in a country where their language has no audience but for a small diaspora. As one exiled Bangladeshi who fled to Britain after being shot in the throat commented: "I lost not only my voice, but my mother tongue."

Writer Megan Lindow talks to some prominent exiles in London's community of 330,000 refugees (see story) who have managed to establish new literary lives, if not a sense of home, in Britain's capital.

In gathering to exchange stories, they have found common threads of identity, loss, and the yearning for home.

Some have discovered new outlets for their works. Others have even started to write in English.

Yet a few have stuck to their native tongues, choosing to read their works in public even when the audience will only hear cadences and rhythms, the meaning masked by a foreign tongue. But that may have a music and lyricism all its own.

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