A translator of good literature is a masterful actor. He is able to simulate his pen and his mood with the pen and mood of the original writer as embodied in the heroes of his story.
A translator of literature should as much as possible try to be invisible and leave all the credit to the writer for readers to appreciate the beautiful writing and ideas that were transferred to them from another language.
Translating the novel “1984” was not pleasant due to its peculiar mood and ideas. I apologize in advance for my flimsy statement, for I am but a translator who is not used to talking much. I am but a means of communication between the writer and the readers.
I translated the novel “1984” last summer among the top one hundred books of all time that the Cultural Palaces Authority chose according to international rankings of critics and readers, including the 2002 ranking of the Norwegian Book Club of one hundred writers from fifty different countries.
The first time I read the novel was in 2008. It told of a scary, gloomy and oppressive world. I wondered how humans could endure such tyranny?
It told of a society that is organized by institutions that have absolute power over everyone all the time. The institutions of the 1984 State dominate the minds and the hearts. They never leave you alone. They hear every whisper. They see your dreams. It is a model state for authoritarian regimes.
The institutions impose discipline and rules that the individuals try to circumvent or change, otherwise they would die.
There is no society in the 1984 State. There is only fear of tyranny. You cannot afford the simple human feeling of love in that state. It would be suicide if you did.
In the 1984 State, the regime fights external and internal enemies. The external enemy is another state that it always wins in endless wars. As to the internal enemy, it is a member of the opposition who could have once been a leading figure of the revolution that the young who dreamt of a different world would follow.
Citizens receive a daily dose of “Two Minutes Hate” on television screens. In those two minutes, the screens show pictures of enemy soldiers approaching and of that opposition member tarnishing the reputation of the state and the regime. His face is then merged with the faces of the cruel soldiers, and he starts to speak like lunatics.
Then the “Big Brother” appears. He is a man in his forties who never gets old. His hair is always black and his voice is always mellow. He tells the people who worship him not to be afraid because he protects them from all these enemies at home and abroad. He also tells them that freedom is slavery, ignorance is power and war is peace.
The 1984 State has a new language called “Newspeak” that is void of all forms of metaphor. It also has a new way of thought called “Doublethink” that makes people accept contradictory beliefs as correct. Doublethink is to know and not know at the same time, to be aware of the truth and lie at the same time, to declare as immoral something that you believe is moral, to believe that democracy is impossible because the party is the guardian of democracy, and to forget what needs to be forgotten and recall it later if necessary.
To understand what Doublethink means, you must use Doublethink as your method.
The 1984 State practices torture systematically to crush people who defy the ignorance that is imposed on everyone. If anyone raised his head and said “I am a human being” he is tortured and crushed inside the Ministry of Love, which is the ministry that is supposed to love citizens, until he is brought before a mirror and told: “Look at yourself. You are not a human being. You are a wreck.”
The Ministry of Truth, which controls the media, practices lying on a daily basis. It rewrites history every day and every hour, changing what is published in books and magazines according to what is required from citizens at each point in time. For memory is the property of the institution that knows the absolute truth.
If the Ministry of Truth says that a certain person is a hero, people cheer him. And if a minute later it says he is the enemy of the people, they boo him. For whoever owns the consciousness of the people owns their memories. And do not forget that ignorance is power.
In the 1984 State, society is dying and nothing can save it because the people will not revolt in order to understand nor will they understand in order to revolt. It is a pitiful state that George Orwell portrays ingeniously for readers to learn that fear does not produce glory, that ignorance is not power, and that only freedom, especially if freed from fear, can save citizens from facing a slow death.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm