Back Home: Translation, Conversion and Domestication in Leila Aboulela's The Translator

Steinitz, Tamar. 2013. Back Home: Translation, Conversion and Domestication in Leila Aboulela's The Translator. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 15(3), pp. 365-382. ISSN 1369-801X [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The Sudanese-born author Leila Aboulela describes the position of the non-western Anglophone writer as a translator by default, moving ‘back and forth’ between languages and cultures. This essay argues that Aboulela’s novel The Translator (1999) calls into question conceptualizations of translation that grow out of western religious and philosophical traditions. The central metaphor of translation seems paradoxical: the only successful act of translation in the novel is a religious conversion into Islam, and is linked with the untranslatability of the core of Islam itself. The essay shows how this process, the rewriting of a secular westerner into Islamic faith, problematizes and reworks notions of equivalence, transparency, invisibility and domestication dominant in Anglo-American models of translation. Moreover, when The Translator is considered in relation to Aboulela’s other works, the popular representation of the translator as a neutral cultural mediator is subverted: this author-translator’s task is not to facilitate bi-lateral cultural exchange, but to act as an ideological agent of cultural change. Her works translate Islam for the western reader while making an argument against the translation of Muslims into a western value system. Thus Aboulela, addressing the reader in English, employing the rhetoric of translation in her work, and referring to her own role as translator, undermines the culturally conditioned expectations these terms raise and challenges western paradigms of translation.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Leila Aboulela, translation, translator, Islam, untranslatability, religious conversion,

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 September 2013Published

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Date Deposited:

26 Jul 2017 14:13

Last Modified:

26 Jul 2017 14:13

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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