Books Sally Rooney turns down an Israeli translation on political grounds | Lucy Knight | THE GUARDIAN | 12 Oct 2021
The writer has refused to sell Hebrew translation rights to her latest novel Beautiful World, Where Are You due to her stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict
Sally Rooney has turned down an offer from the Israeli publisher that translated her two previous novels into Hebrew, due to her stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The Irish author’s second novel Normal People was translated into 46 languages, and it was expected that Beautiful World, Where Are You would reach a similar number. However, Hebrew translation rights have not yet been sold, despite the publisher Modan putting in a bid.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Rooney explained her decision, writing that while she was “very proud” to have had her previous novels translated into Hebrew, she has for now “chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house”.
The statement expressed her desire to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), a campaign that works to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law”.
“Of course, many states other than Israel are guilty of grievous human rights abuses. This was also true of South Africa during the campaign against apartheid there. In this particular case, I am responding to the call from Palestinian civil society, including all major Palestinian trade unions and writers’ unions.”
She went on to acknowledge that not everyone will agree with her, but that she did not feel it would be right to collaborate with an Israeli company “that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.
The statement confirms the news published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last month, which reported that “when Modan approached Rooney’s agent in an attempt to sign another translation deal, the agent announced that Rooney supports the cultural boycott movement on Israel and therefore does not approve translation into Hebrew”.
Gitit Levy-Paz, a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, wrote a column for the Jewish news platform Forward criticising the author’s decision. “The very essence of literature, its power to bring a sense of coherence and order to the world, is negated by Rooney’s choice to exclude a group of readers because of their national identity”, she claimed.
Others have argued that Rooney was right to take this stand and support BDS. Tribune magazine editor Ronan Burtenshaw wrote that the writer’s decision was “no surprise”, based on her previous assertions. “You can’t publish with Modan and respect the boycott. Simple as.”
Earlier this year, Roger Waters, the co-founder of Pink Floyd, and singer-songwriter Patti Smith took a similar position to Rooney, joining more than 600 musicians in signing an open letter encouraging artists to boycott performances at Israel’s cultural institutions in order to “support the Palestinian people and their human right to sovereignty and freedom”. In 2018, an open letter was published in the Guardian in which artists called for a boycott of the Eurovision song contest 2019, which was being hosted in Israel.Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney review – the problem of successRead more
Beautiful World, Where Are You shot to the top of the UK book charts when it was released in September, selling more than 40,000 copies in its first five days on sale, and beating the first day sales of Booker-longlisted Normal People by 1,200% at Waterstones. Both Normal People and Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends, have been adapted for TV, with filming for the latter beginning in April this year.
Rooney is not the first author to refuse translation into Hebrew on political grounds. Alice Walker, author of Pulitzer prize-winning The Color Purple, refused to authorise a Hebrew translation of her novel in 2012 because of what she referred to as Israel’s “apartheid state”.
- The headline of this article has been amended to include the word “an” to clarify that just one Israeli translation was rejected