Iranian translator Farideh Mahdavi-Damghani talks to The Korea Times during an interview last week in Seoul. The famed translator, who believes Korean works will be hugely popular in Iran, came to Korea to pursue collaborations and projects to make that possible.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Han Sang-hee
Translating can be a spiritual experience.
It’s more than finding the perfect word in one language that could replace the word in another ― for Farideh Mahdavi-Damghani, a famed translator from Iran, it has been a joyful and inspiring journey for more than 25 years.
The 47-year-old visited Korea for the first time this month to pursue introducing more Korean works to her native Iran, and despite the bone-chilling wintry winds, she was more than eager to talk about her life, work and interests with The Korea Times.
Although not yet well known in Korea, Mahdavi-Damghani is a noted translator in both her home country and also in Europe. Having won numerous awards such as the Florence Literary Prize in 2004, one of the most prestigious literary awards after the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, she is also the first non-Italian to win an award from the President of Italy for her noteworthy translations.
Mahdavi-Damghani has traveled around the world in search if interesting projects and collaborations, and though other Asian countries have caught her eye, she explained that Korea was her favorite.
``Korean culture is very much like Persian culture. We have similar ideas and cultures,’’ said Mahdavi-Damghani, adding that she owns a collection of over 300 Korean TV dramas and movies.
``I also admire how Koreans have been able to change themselves in (the past) 50 to 60 years. Korea was desperate in becoming a real power in Asia and it has really succeeded. I admire your discipline but at the same time you are a paradox. Even though you show yourself as to be very serious people, which is not true. You are very sentimental, very sensitive and emotional.”
Given her profession, reading may come as an easy way for Mahdavi-Damghani to learn more about another country, but unfortunately, she was not able to find many Korean books translated into Persian, let alone English, French or Italian, all the languages which she speaks and writes fluently. This was exactly why she decided to introduce more Korean works to overseas readers, particularly in other Asian regions.
``Unlike the thoughts that some Koreans have, believing that Persia is very far, we are very much alike. In Europe, the Asian culture is still so unknown. That’s why they would rather have Korean translators translate them and have footnotes, but for an Asian it is so much simpler,’’ she explained.
Branching out to the United States and Europe may seem like an attractive idea, but starting off with Asian countries could be a faster and more practical way to captivate readers in the long run, she said.
`` We (Persians) sit on the floor to eat. It is not a bother to take off our shoes at home,’’ she said, adding that such cultural, social and emotional similarities can speed up the process in having more Asian readers become interested in Korean literature.
However, there are many obstacles in starting such collaborations, especially when many believe that the best place to start is the U.S.
``Korea doesn’t want to open its doors too much,’’ she said, explaining that Korean institutes prefer having a Korean translator translating local works into Persian, rather than having a second translator work on the foreign language version. This may come as a hurdle, as it takes more time and effort, plus more work in finding the right people. But Mahdavi-Damghani insists that there are certainly many people, including herself, who would be eager to collaborate for this common goal.
``There should not be so many obstacles! Choose a delegate in each country. In Persia, I should be their eyes, their ears and their voice. Any person who wants to translate should send this translation to that person first and then the (delegate) may verify,’’ Mahdavi-Damghani suggested, adding that coming up with practical ideas will further help Korea and its writers branch out to the entire world.
``Persia has already fallen in love with Korea. If I publish them, there will be a lot of people buying those books and they will enjoy it and read it to their beloved ones. I am certain of it,’’ she added with a smile.