Literary CornerFifty years amidst shifting sands (1-5) [Archives:2005/882/Culture]

October 3 2005

By Abu Al-Kalmah Al-Tayyibah
Author: Mohsin Al-Ainy,

Former Prime Minister of Yemen

Language: Arabic & English

Publisher: Dar Al-Nahar, Beirut

Year Published: August 2004

Number of Pages: 384 pages

On the joyous occasion of the anniversary of the holidays remembering the landmark moments of the Yemeni Revolution, one cannot find any more worthwhile book to share with the YT readers than one dealing with the Yemeni patriotic movement.

Furthermore, the most fitting book would be one written by an active role player in that movement, His Excellency Mr. Muhsin A. Al-Aini (the translation carries the name of Mohsin Alaini). This critic had a chance to look at some of the latest productions written or rather gathered together in the form of photographs depicting some of the characters and events that highlighted the early years of the Revolution.

One of them oddly had pictures of just about every Tom, Dick and Harry who had anything to do with the great moments of Yemen's current history. However, one could not fail to notice that almost all the characters are either deceased or have gone into oblivion. There are still quite a few, who are still living and they certainly deserved special mention as their roles were not minor, but apparently the living are best if kept dormant, lest they remember…

In any case, the author of the subject is still alive and well and is ready to give his services and share his long track record of achievements and experience for the good of rejuvenating some of those historic moments and reminding the Yemeni people that the struggle of the Yemeni patriotic movement is a long and enduring one and spans the course of sixty years or so and, although dormant at this stage, should be a continuing one, so that the principles that so many of those martyrs depicted in the glossy picture books of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism died for should be engrained in the hearts of all the Yemeni people for generations to come and applied in a manner that will lend credence to the soundness of those principles.

That is why those people were ready to sacrifice their lives and give the Yemeni people the greatest gifts one can aspire for: liberty, freedom and a chance to find a niche for Yemen in the international community of modern nations.

The subject book has been translated into English by YT Senior Columnist and Editor, Hassan Al-Haifi and published by Dar Al-Nahar of Beirut. However, according to the translator, the edition printed by Dar Al-Nahar deviated from the original translation in several respects that may have diluted some of the quality in the product and some of the deviations are significant in nature and do some injustice to the original Arabic text and the original English translation, with all respects to Mr. Ghassan Ghosn, who did the editing for Dar Al-Nahar.

There were several spelling mistakes (Governorate is spelled Governate, just to mention one). In addition, the editor changed the spelling of the names of many of the people and places in the book, on the pretext that they are closer to the Arabic phonetics, but the spelling used in the original is that which has been used by the characters themselves and the way they have been spelled in all English articles, books or documents related to Yemen or even the Arab World.

Another important element in the translation are the footnotes entered by the author and the translator to familiarize the English reader with some of the background of the events depicted or the characters discussed or portrayed, or which contain significant insight into some of the socio-political-economic aspects surrounding an anecdote or phenomenon cited in the work.

In addition, the editor tried to include some of the footnotes within the original text, which somehow seemed like a good idea at the start, but was found to loose some of the fine literary flow of the original text.

The remaining footnotes were thrown in the back as “endnotes” without a cross reference to them in the translated text. Thus, if the reader wished to know something about a particular unfamiliar text, he would not know how to find it without some searching. This becomes somewhat cumbersome for the non-Arabic reader, who would not be familiar with the spelling of a given name. The original translation had the footnotes marked with a cross reference and were easily to be found in the bottom of the page, where the footnoted text was found, for easy access to the reader to obtain the fundamental information that would help the reader easily understand the text without having to flip back to the end and carry out a Google search (which can't be done of course) to find the text, if it is to be found at all in the endnote.

Nevertheless, the book even with all its faults, still represents the first real personal accounts by a very important role player in the Yemeni nationalist movement available to the English reader and should be read by all those who have an interest in understanding some of the high events of this very important in Yemen's volatile history. It also veers away from the oft-found cliche rhetoric of praise and glory, without showing any worthwhile analytic content to reflect the author's true understanding of the events that the author wishes to the reader's attention as significant events in Yemen's current history. On the other hand the book provides insight into the character of important personalities, who not only played an important role in the history of Yemen, but of the Arab World in this very important era of the history of the latter. The author depicted many conversations, involving important role players, like the late President Abdullah Al-Sallal (Yemen's first President of the Republic), the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, King Faisal al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Qarim Qassim of Iraq and others. It is worth it to mention that this column will cover the book to cover the national holiday season as many of the details in the book are not only unknown to non-Yemenis, but to many Yemenis as well. This is partly due to the unique way the author has portrayed these important moments in the history of Yemen and the Arab world, with a personal and analytical touch that other “memoirs” writers are either afraid to delve into or they are more concerned with glorifying themselves following the traditional bland approach of the Arab official media.