East Meets West

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This morning, I blogged about the poetry of Taha Muhammad Ali and his translator, Peter Cole. In July, I wrote a profile for the Forward about Peter, his wife Adina Hoffman, and Ibis Editions, the small press that they run. There’s something wrong with the link on the Forward‘s website, so I’m posting the article here. (Actually, I’m posting the original version I submitted to the Forward – the director’s cut, if you will.)


Found in Translation

By Daniel Septimus
From the Forward (7/14/06)

Nestled between Arab East Jerusalem, the ultra-Orthodox mecca of Meah Shearim, and the cafes and pubs of Zion Square is the neighborhood of Musrara. Musrara is a borderland of sorts, a crossroads of ethnic, cultural, and religious identities. It’s no surprise, then, that Musrara is home to Ibis Editions, a small book press specializing in literature of the Levant, works that blur the boundaries between time, place, and language.

Ibis is the brainchild of poet and translator Peter Cole and his wife, the writer Adina Hoffman. Since 1998, the American-born couple has published works of Hebrew, Arabic, French, and German in English translation. Their backlist includes writers largely unknown in the English-speaking world (Dennis Silk, Ibn Arabi, Ahmed Rassim), as well as obscure works by well-know writers (the essays of Haim Nahman Bialik; the poetry of Gershom Scholem).

Ibis emerged out of a Jerusalem literary scene, which, aside from Cole, included Silk, Harold Schimmel, and Gabriel Levin. Their writings and translations featured prominently in Ibis’ first run of books, but since then, Cole and Hoffman have extended their reach.

“In the lousy political context, we felt a push to make Ibis more explicitly a press for translation,” said Hoffman, “but we also wanted to bring together other work from this part of the world, not just Hebrew or Jewish, but Arabic literature, a book like the Ladino one on our most recent list.”

The Ladino book is Marcel Cohen’s In Search of a Lost Ladino (2006), a fascinating work difficult to categorize in terms of traditional genres. The book is an ode to Judeo-Spanish, the language of the author’s youth. It is epistolary in structure, addressed to Cohen’s friend, the Spanish artist Antonio Saura. In Search is both a eulogy and an emergency operation for Ladino. As Cohen memorializes Ladino, he memorializes a part of himself. As he tries to resuscitate the language, he in turn, tries to stave off his own demise.

Posted on November 27, 2006

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