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Read a wonderful blog post by Azita Rassi, Tiny Owl’s translator, commemorating her recent journey to Edinburgh International Book Festival and London:


Azita Rassi at House of Illustration/ London

It is still dark outside when I say goodbye to my 17-year-old son and leave for Kuala Lumpur International Airport. This is the beginning of a dream-like journey to England, Scotland, and finally Iran. I naively believe that I am flying prepared both for the 14-18 degrees Celsius of London and Edinburgh and the 40-45 degrees of the hot summer in Tehran.  After living for nine years in Malaysia, I have no idea of how much I can shiver in a British summer, a fact that I will soon discover the hard way.

I have to travel almost twice the length of the Great Wall of China to get to London via two flights, each taking about seven hours with about three hours of waiting in between.No matter; I love flying and am thrilled that I have this extraordinary opportunity to revisit my beloved London, a city I haven’t seen for 42 years. But that’s not the only cause of my excitement. I am about to be reunited with one of my dearest friends, Delaram, whom I have known and admired for 15 years, a co-founder of Tiny Owl, the publisher of many of my translatios. Furthermore, I am invited to go to Edinburgh Book Festival. Scotland is a place that I have known through books, films, and series only, and even this vicarious experience of the land has been enough to create a yearning in me to see it with my own eyes. The only dark cloud in the sky of my happiness is that my equally enthusiastic 24-year-old daughter has been denied a visa to accompany me. I have promised her to tell her all the details and send her tons of pictures.

At Edinburgh Book Festival with illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi

It is nighttime in London when my flight lands in Heathrow. Delaram and her son are waiting for me with big smiles. They take me to the underground station. I feel so energetic and buoyant that I wholeheartedly welcome Delaram’s suggestion that we get off at Green Park and walk the rest of the way to see a bit of the city. From that evening on, whenever we have an opportunity, we  go sightseeing. I fall in love with London parks all over again, as I knew I would, but I also discover new favorite places, like the street food stalls near Sloane Square, Tiny Owl Office and the cozy restaurant near it by the name of Electric Elephant,  the Museum of Transportation, Narrowboat Pub and Wenlock Basin near it, and St. Martin’s Theatre, where on my last night in London I am finally able to see Mousetrap, realizing a 35-year-old wish.

These are stolen moments, though. My main focus is on the events Tiny Owl has organized in London and on our schedule in Edinburgh. At each step, I get to know more fabulous people: at Tiny Owl Office, at the House of Illustration where Ehsan’s supporters gather to celebrate the visa that has finally been issued for him thanks to their efforts, at Parasol Unit where we have an event for children based on two of Tiny Owl books, and later in Edinburgh Book Festival. It is one great experience after another and it makes me a lot more optimistic about the fate of humanity. Surely, such a great number of open-minded, warm-hearted thinkers, writers, artists, translators, story-tellers, publishers,  and parents will be able to undo some of the evil that is going on in the world these days.

By the time the London stage of my trip draws to an end, I have a rampant sore throat. We go to King’s Cross Station and board the train to Edinburgh. Scotland is as beautiful as I expected and our first day in Edinburgh is sunny and gorgeous. I love listening to the seagulls flying about. I am tempted by every play poster I see, by all the ads about various acts in the Fringe Festival, but I am not feeling well and I prefer to preserve my strength for the workshops we have on the next day and the BBC interview where I have to act as Ehsan’s interpreter. In the afternoon, when we meet with Alia Alzougbi to plan for our mutual event, my voice has become a hybrid between a mouse squeak and a hysterical shriek. By morning, I have lost my voice altogether. I am desperate. I have looked forward to the last event fervently for weeks. It is the most important event of the whole trip for me, as I am to appear on the panel in my own capacity as a book translator and not as an interpreter. Daniel Hahn, the chair of the event, is more than understanding. He assures me that he will work out a solution. He asks me only two questions during the event and he and Delaram relay what I try to express via gestures and hoarse whispers to a very patient audience, but I am heartbroken, knowing I could have contributed so much more.

The next morning I am to fly to Tehran. This wonderful trip to the UK has given me a chance to experience things I have only read about, like tasting black pudding, haggis, and duck confit, as well as seeing how canal locks work. I have spent lovely hours in the company of learned, kind, humble, and talented individuals. Most importantly, I have seen firsthand how my translations enable children who have been brought up in different cultures to enjoy the same books that the children of my country do. Seeing their eyes light up when listening to  the words I put down on paper half a globe away is enough impetus for me to believe that what I do is capable of bridging between cultures. Nothing can be more rewarding for a translator and I cannot be more grateful for the chance.

  • Read a report on Ehsan Abdollahi and Friends
  • Watch Ehsan Abdollahi’s BBC interview at Edinburgh Festival

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