By: Ali Seidabadi, editor for Tiny Owl’s Persian series
Although Iran is not a member of the Berne Convention and Iranian internal laws do not protect international rights for publishing foreign works in Persian, some Iranian publishers feel an ethical obligation to observe copyright and strive to publish the translation of selected foreign books only after buying their rights.
A few days ago, in the bookshop opposite our home, I saw Night Circus, written and illustrated by Etienne Delessert, with a note from the publisher in which he explained his meeting with Delessert to buy the rights to the book.
Delessert is a Swiss-American illustrator and author whose books have been translated to Persian for years and are well-liked by children in Iran.
This new book by Delessert is about the glory of imagination and games, about some enervated reality that becomes dazzling in the light of imagination. In an autumn night, a train with strange cars passes a man who is the narrator of the story. The engine driver is his cat and in each car there are clowns who look like, and are named after, famous literary figures in the adults’ world: Franz Kafka, Eugène Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett. And there are other familiar elements from the world of arts as well.
The presence of these images and signs in the text and pictures of the book has not disrupted its comprehensibility by children, rather it has given the book a dimension and a depth that broadens its audience. I have seen such strategies — where the book establishes a metatextual relation with another book or work of art and an intellectual element from the adults’ world is present in the book — mostly in continental European books, especially French ones. However, it is possible that other writers or illustrators have done the same. I also recall some references to paintings in a number of Anthony Browne’s works.
Such a strategy can broaden the functionality of the book, provided that it does not disrupt the relation of the child to the book.
We read Night Circus as a family and each of us was enchanted by a different aspect of it. My nine-year-old son loved the circus. My daughter who is into art, sought artistic references in the pictures of the book, and my wife and I were joyfully surprised to find the names of Kafka, Ionesco and Beckett in a children’s book. Then we discussed whether we should explain about these characters to our son, who was the main audience of the work, and if yes, then what sort of an explanation it should be.
We talked to him very briefly about these figures and I think he might forget these three names, but whenever he sees them, he will have a pleasant feeling.