Interview with Sana Nassari, a young award-winning Iranian writer, poet, and literary translator
Updated: Apr 28
Sana Nassari is a young award-winning Iranian writer, poet, and literary translator. She has so far published one novel of her own as well as translations of three novels by the American writer Karen Joy Fowler, a novel, The Graveyard, by Polish writer Marek Hlasko. She also has the translation of a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer under publication. A chapbook of her short stories, These Two Roses, has been recently published by Exiled Writer Ink, London 2020.
Her poetry collection, O Delilah, due to be published by a reputable publishing house, Morvarid, was banned by censor authority in Iran. Sana’s poem, The Death Foretold is published in an anthology called Translating Migration: Multilingual Poems of Movement. Her poetry has been inspired by ancient scriptures and historical texts, while her short stories focus on trauma and the traumatic experiences of contemporary Middle Eastern men. Being raised during the Iraq-Iran war, she specifically depicts moments of reaching breaking point in human relationships during the war in her short stories.
Sana is currently studying on the M.A. History of Art program at SOAS, University of London.
She is interviewed by Lolita, a first-year student in Creative Writing and Journalism at Middlesex University.
Lolita: Hi Sana, it’s great to have you here with us, at the Storyfest 2021. As you know, this year’s theme is around Transformation, we’ve compiled a few questions to ask you. So first, what language do you speak? Which do you prefer to write in?
Sana: I speak Farsi (also known as Persian). Being born and raised in the south of Iran, near the border of Iraq, I also speak Arabic but I am not able to write in Arabic. I prefer to write in English to avoid the gap which is being created during the process of translation. It took me a long time and a lot of effort to feel strong enough to do so.
Lolita: How do you feel about translation? Does it feel true to what you try to say, or do you find it lacking?
Sana: Besides being a writer, I am a translator as well. I translate from English to Farsi and have published four translated novels so far. I found it impossible to transmit the whole aspect of a text into the target language. Something definitely would be lost. It could be the wit, cultural identity, poetic effect, the rhythm or pulse of the words, aesthetic values, or even loss of the exact meaning. On some occasions, yes. Some words, terms, and concepts do not have an equivalent in English; In fact, every language has words that are difficult to translate. Some words have multiple meanings which makes them impossible to translate. So, the challenge is to find a balance between the original text and the translated version which should convey the original message as well as with all its literary aspects.
Lolita: How do you portray the reality of living in a foreign country? Do you feel that what you read and write really portrays the difficulties or someone still learning a new language, of the challenges it creates?
Sana: I’m glad you raised this question. In terms of coping with the difficulties of learning a new language, the answer is no.
It seems that in the world of literature the most significant aspects of being a migrant, foreigner, or refugee are financial struggles, cultural shocks and not being able to adapt to the new society but as you mentioned, learning the new language can be the root of all above. Our language is our world. We live in language. Singer, my favorite writer, was a migrant and constantly wrote about migrants. As far as I have read he is one of the few writers whose works focus on this issue. He, himself, was writing in Yiddish, and in The Certificate, the main character, David, a young writer, insists on writing in Yiddish, just like Singer. David has the habit of observing people and one characteristic that he repeatedly looks for in different people is the degree of their resemblance to gentiles and the key ability he seeks is fluency in speaking Polish.
Lolita: What advice would you give to writers who come from a different country and talk a foreign language?
Sana: The only way to survive for a real writer is to continue writing and never give up. Have some routines and stick to them. If you still write in your mother tongue, find a good translator. Work on one piece at a time until it is finished. And finally, if writing is something that you enjoy, you should not worry about anything but enjoying it more!
Lolita: Do you find it difficult to share your culture (in your work and in general) in a way that others can understand and experience?
Sana: In general, there are many cultural differences. Some concepts are considered positive in Iran while the same concepts might sense negatively here (and vise versa). This is normal as different societies have varied values. The challenge is how to explain and develop it to be understandable and reflects in your text as you want.
Lolita: Is there something you miss from back home, which you wish you could portray well in your writing?
Sana: Of course, there are so many things that I wish I could portray in my stories. But in general, I consider myself a cosmopolitan person. I might feed on the past but I believe that what is important for creating literature is the truth and not the reality. Reality has its roots in locations and the physical world, while the truth can be found anywhere. It is in your mind.
Lolita: Can you describe your writing process? What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? Which aspect do you dislike the most?
Sana: The most exciting part of writing for me is when I know what I want to write tomorrow and I develop the details in my mind. It is important to me to know what I am going to write before I face the blank page, though it can change whilst writing.
Walking provokes my imagination. I usually walk for two or three hours to think about a specific part of the story. It always works for me and when I come back home I know exactly what I want to write. I never read my work-in-progress to anyone. It is not the most difficult thing to wait until the end of the writing process! Especially for me because I usually write the first draft of a short story in a single session. Then a few days later I start editing.
Lolita: What inspires you to write?
Sana: Anything can inspire a writer. It can be a simple word or name which takes you back to your childhood or a conversation between you and a friend. Most of my characters come from my childhood and of course when the story is done and I look at them I realize that they have a small similarity to reality.
Lolita: What are your plans for the future? Are you working on something right now?
Sana: At the moment, I am working on my short story collection. All the stories take place at the same time, the years of the Iraq-Iran war, and have some common characters. You find a character from one story in the next one.
Follow Sana on Instagram: sana.nassari
Follow Lolita on Twitter: @atlolis1989