On the Translation of Foreign Fictions in Afghanistan

The translation of foreign fiction has been one of the most significant cultural developments in Afghanistan since the early 20th century. Modern translation, which emerged with the establishment of the printing press in the country, paved the way for broader, cultural changes. Its development parallels the sociopolitical changes in the country. At its inception, translation was a means towards introducing a different type of lifestyle (namely the Western) as part of a political struggle to reform Afghan society. A primary goal of such a project was to modernize the Persian language by making it more straightforward and more reflective of everyday life. To this end, translation of foreign fiction was perceived to be one of the main sources for the emergence and development of modern fiction and its various genres, such as the novel, the short story, and drama.

Translations provided new approaches toward literature. They helped authors learn more about the nature of their own literary activity and explore new structures and themes. The publication of translated works reflected both the overall sociopolitical and cultural characteristics of the various political eras and, most importantly, the positions of the governments towards such changes. The printed media, which throughout the 20th century was controlled by the state, preferred the publication of translated works to creative original works, because they were politically safe and less problematic in relation to official censorship. For the translators, too, these publications brought income and literary fulfillment, and were also a way of expanding the reading public.

The great number of such works published in Afghanistan indicated the reading public’s thirst for works that had been otherwise unavailable. It should be pointed out that translators came from differing social backgrounds: some belonged to literary or social elites while the others consisted of low-level civil servants, teachers, and even students. All had different levels of education, literary experience, and command of foreign languages and proficiency in literary Persian. Thus, their sociopolitical outlook strongly reflected the type of the works they chose to translate and the way they translated them.

Farid Bezhan
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