By Susannah Tarbush
The book "Translating Lybia" is published by Saqi in association with the London Middle East Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies, LondonEthan Chorin's book "Translating Libya: The Modern Libyan Short Story" defies being pigeon-holed within a particular genre. At its heart are 16 Libyan short stories newly translated by Chorin (in three cases jointly with Basem Tulti). But the book is at the same time a delightful mixture of travelogue, scholarly study, and a record of personal encounters. Libya, after its long years of international isolation, still appears generally mysterious and little understood to outsiders. The title "Translating Libya" can be seen in two ways. One is the translation of Libyan literature, the other the "translating" of Libya itself. Through the stories and his accompanying jottings and commentaries, Chorin throws much light on different facets of Libya, past and present. American enthusiasm Chorin was a member of the small team of US diplomats that went to Tripoli after US-Libyan relations were renewed in July 2004. He remained there as Commercial and Economic Attaché until 2006. When he asked his assistant in Tripoli, US-educated Basem Tulti, if he could recommend any good local authors, Tulti produced a paperback containing "The Locusts" ("Al-Jarad") by Ahmed Fagih. Chorin loved the story, and translated it into English. Thus was born the idea of collaborating with Tulti on a project to translate a number of stories. The stories are interspersed with Chorin's vivid, often amusing, accounts of his adventures while travelling to far-flung places, or trying to track down particular writers or stories. He combed multiple sources for stories, including bookshops, newspapers, magazines, internet sites and personal contacts. The stories are divided into three sections – eastern, southern and western Libya – corresponding roughly to the pre-independence provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. The eastern region is placed first, in deference to its "distinct role in producing Libyan writers and intellectuals." Complex American-Libyan relationsHow did Libyans react to Chorin as a US diplomat? "I found Libyans as a people – and Libyan writers and artists in particular – to be engaged, and extremely generous. I always got the sense that most Libyans felt very positive towards Americans, despite the past obvious tensions in the relationship."