Sampsa Peltonen, works as an audio-visual translator of documentaries by day, and a literary translator by night, translating from Arabic and French into Finnish. Authors he has translated from Arabic include Hassan Blasim, Alaa Al Aswany, Rajaa Alsanea, Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, and poetry by Mahmoud Darwish. He is working on a Finnish translation of a wide selection of modern Arabic poetry.
Literary translator Sampsa Peltonen operates on two levels for books he suggests for translation. First, he’s dealing with a tiny market like Finland’s where “anything outside the realm of literature from Nordic countries and English is niche literature; even French, so Arabic is very marginal.”
Post 9/11 and then beginning in 2014 with the arrival of Iraqi refugees in Finland there was great interest on the part of Finnish publishing houses, says Peltonen, but it was difficult to make suggestions because “important seminal works haven’t yet been translated and I don’t have anything to build on. There are so many works that deserve to be translated.”
So, for his suggestions for LEILA, he didn’t only consider the Finnish market but rather “chose titles that I found personally interesting. From a Finnish point of view, I would have suggested titles that have been already translated into French, German, or English, but not yet into Finnish because we’re so far behind.”
For his sources, Peltonen mainly follows authors he likes on social media, “stalking through their friends’ list and following discussions that they have in Arabic. Authors are often friends with each other, and they complement each other’s books and then I Google names they mention.”
He reads Arablit.org and when he travels, he discovers new authors which in turn lead to other names. For LEILA he looks at what is underrepresented on a European level. “I’d like to see more authors translated from Sudan, it’s such an interesting place with so much going on in terms of literary translation. One thought is that I would also love to see some ‘bad literature’ that is kitschy, shmaltzy or cheesy like romance novels because I think because we translate little, we get the intellectual side, which is of course important, but it almost enhances the idea we have of the ‘mysterious Orient’. I would love to see crime or science fiction translated a little more so that our perception of the Arab context falls within the same context that we have.”