“Cultural Exchange Through Translation – An Interview with Shaghayeh Ghandehari,” by Ericka Taylor

Q:You’ve written that translation is essentially a cultural exchange since it reminds people that humanity shares the same basic anxieties, concerns, hopes, and fears. What is it about Vivien Alcock’s The Cuckoo Sister that led you to translate it?


A: I was a teenager myself at the time and could therefore clearly sympathize with the main characters, Rosie and Emma, who happened to be about the same age as me. It was very interesting to discover how others feel about sudden changes and how they react in such situations. In this case, there’s a huge family secret that changes the direction of life for every family member. Emma, the younger sister, accidentally discovers that she had another sister, who was robbed from her stroller before Emma’s birth. Her parents failed to track down the baby snatcher or even the reason behind the abduction. Even though Emma’s father is a powerful lawyer, the issue remains unsolved. Since Emma’s mother experienced a nervous breakdown after the incident, everyone prefers to pretend that nothing happened at all. All seems normal until the thirteenth birthday of the lost baby, when a teenage young girl appears at the door with a letter. It appears that she possibly could be the lost baby, but they aren’t sure if they should trust the woman who made such a claim in a letter.

This was my first experience in translation. I was twelve years old when I read this novel, but it had such an impact on me that I remember wondering, “Why don’t I share this pleasure with other readers?” I was inexperienced in translating but wanted to share what I found to be interesting.

As I have said before, in books we are reminded that humanity shares the same feel- ings all over the world. We realize how man’s nature is the same, even though reactions might vary based on cultural situations and traditions. Even now that I have translated over 40 novels for young adults, I still find reading about the passions of mankind and how we cope with life issues to be quite interesting. I just can’t get enough. I mean, I am trying to learn as I read between the lines of every single fictional work I encounter.

Q: How did you progress from reading the book in England, as a 12-year-old, and getting it published in Iran? How long did it take?

A: Well, first of all, I have to say that usually no one takes a twelve-year-old girl seriously, especially publishers. Once publishers realized I was so young, they politely excused me and the book, without even bothering to flip over the pages. This happened a few times and with different publishers, so I felt disappointed and I was about to give up publishing my translation of The Cuckoo Sister. Then someone introduced me to a great monthly journal for young adults. There, I was encouraged and supported and they published the story as a serial piece. Then again, I waited until I was around eighteen before I tried once more to publish the story I’d adored. So it took about five years to get The Cuckoo Sister published in Iran, which was a long time indeed! Then I realized that I needed to be patient to face the challenges of this career if I intended to devote myself to it.

(Read the rest of this Q&A on page 125 of Love and Pomegranates)

About the writer

Ericka Taylor

Ericka Taylor holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. While pursuing her master’s, she served as Assistant Managing Editor at Willow Springs Magazine. She graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in English and her non- fiction has been published in Human Ecology News, Cornell Political Forum, and Ark Magazine. She has an as yet untitled novel in progress and contributed to the editing of several pieces in this collection.