I’m reading a science fiction novel written by someone who went to my school. So far, it’s very good.
I found a bunch of old Ballantine Books 1970s World War II books, and read Night of the Long Knives by Nikolai Tolstoy. It’s a topic I knew of, but not much about the details. I’m going on to The Reichstag Fire next.
On audio, I’m getting to the end of Edmund Fitzgerald’s translation of The Iliad. I’d read this translation when it first came out, having been introduced to the Odyssey in junior high, and loving it. I’ve read both translation so often I’ve lost count, but had never seen either in audiobook form before. It’s interesting, because Penguin audio published editions of Robert Fagles’ translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey (the former read by Derek Jacobi and the latter by Ian McKellen), but for some reason only issued a very heavily abridged version of the Iliad, so this is the first time I’m hearing the entire book.
My one complaint is that they didn’t follow Fitzgerald’s practice of rendering the names in proper Grek, instead of using the Lain forms. For most names, it doesn’t make any difference – “Hector” is pronounced the same as “Hektor”, after all. But it ought to be “Akhilleos”, not “Achilles”. And it’s supposed to be Aias, not Ajax, dammit. Fitzgerald’s translation was the first time I thought of him (well, them, considereing that there’s Telamonian and “the lesser”) as a warrior, rather than a cleanser. (Cartoonist J.B. Handelsman once drew a cartoon of the TRojan war, with a cylindrical canister of “Ajax” fighting for the Greeks.)
My big thing, though, is that I’ve slowly been working my way through the Koran. I’ve read it three times before, each time the N.J. Dawood translation published by Penguin. The Pickthall translation is supposed to be better, but I haven’t found a copy.
That’s not the issue, though. The problem is that this is a book in desperate need of an annotated edition for western folk like myself.The entire historical and social milieu is unfamiliar to most of us, and the Dawood translation – and just about every other one I’ve read – has hardly any notes to explain things. When I read the New Testament, I used the Pelican Bible Commentaries, or the Anchor Bible, each of whioh dissects the Book of the Bible sentence by sentence in minute detail. I need that sort of scrutiny and background a thousand times more for the Koran.
Finally, this summer, I found such a book. It’s The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text, English Translation, and Commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali, published in 1995. It runs for 1,250 pages of insanely detailed notes. I picked it up at a used book store at a resort, where I bought it cheap (Imagine that – incredibly dense and detailed Quranic interpretation for sale at a US resort city for a song. Who’da thunk it?)
I decided to read it in tandem with my other Korans. I went through my books, pulling out other ttranslations I’d picked up through the years, in the hope of finding a good commentary. I found that I had a total of FIVE different translations. That’s more different translation than I have of the Bible. Or any other religious text, for that matter. Every night that I read it, before going to sleep, I read one surah (or at least a section of one, for the earlier chapters). Here’s a brief rundown:
1.) M.H. Shakir translation – easily the toughest to read. It’s not a facile translation, although I like its practice of not “translating” the names of characters into their western equivalents, so you have to figure out who Jibril and Issa and Yunus are.
2.) M.A.S. Abdel Haleem translation (Oxford University Press). The word count almost matches up with the previous one, so I’m always at about the same page. A little easier going, and the translate the names. They also add several footnotes, but not nearly enough. Easier going than Shakir, but not by all that much.
3.) N.J. Dawood (Penguin) – easily te easiest to find. It’s also the easiest to read and the most comprehensible. Some people take issue with the choices in the translation. If it had more than only an occasional footnote, it’s be better.
4.) J.M. Rockwell (Dover) Like most Dover editions, this is a reprint of an old edition, in this case the 1909 translation originally published by Everyman/Dent. Fortunately, it’s not like the Dover editions of the Chinese sacred texts, which the Reverend Legge translated. I get the feeling that Legge was a missionary in China who felt that he had to translate accurately, but showed in his annotations that he hated the text. Rockwell doesn’t give that impression. He does, however, re-arrange the orders of the surahs, something no other translation I have does, so I have to go searching for the next chapter. This isn’t helped by the translations of the chapter titles often being different in different editions. Rockwell has quite a few footnotes.
5.) The Muhammad Ali translation is by far the most useful in its annotations. He explains things none of the other translations do, even things that obviously need explaining. He gleefully tells you why Rockwell’s translation is wrong ion various points. I get the feeling that he is an apologist for Islam, because sometimes he goes out of his way to say that, well, other translations might be correct in the literal meaning of the words, but they fail to convey the true intent of the text. One thing I admire is his commitment to literal correctness. I was amazed to find that one surah that every other translation gives as “Spoils of War” is translated by him as “Voluntary Gifts”. Muhammad Ali notes that “Spoils of War” is, indeed, the usual translation, but that “Voluntary Gifts” is the literal translation. It would be easy to make some snide remark at this point, but I assume that this is some military euphemism, and no more (“Where did you get those things from, sergeant?” “Uhh – the civilians game them to us, sir.”)
I’m about 1/4 - 1/3 of the way through. I don’t read evey night, but I’m determined to work my way through, reading all five translations at a time. “Better you than me,” says Pepper Mill, looking at the stack by my bedside.