Translation of the Amharic Novel, Tobiya (1907) into English

African-language literature has a long and deep history in their societies but take place within fenced literary spaces and typically are unavailable to world literature audiences. As a scholar and translator, I have always endeavored to bridge this gap between African-language authorship and the global readership, by translating African poetry and fiction into the English language. Especially after my well-received translation of the first Eritrean, Tigrinya-language novel, The Conscript (2012), I also wanted to translate the first Ethiopian, Amharic-language novel, Tobiya (written in Amharic in 1907) by Afeworq Gebreyesus. Beyond its historical significance, Tobiya is paramount for its literary and linguistic qualities as well as for understanding of Ethiopia’s history and culture at the intersections of (pre-colonial) tradition and modernity. Written in an “archaic” idiom, Tobiya deals with the encounter of so-named “barbarian” and “Christian” nations and depicts the stakes of religious and territorial wars in an early African political geography. It also alarms about the dangers of misunderstanding and lack of reconciliation, a message that carries as much relevance then, as it does now.

Project leader(s):
  • Ghirmai Negash (African Studies Program, Ohio University)

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