World

Sally Rooney’s novels don’t deserve to be translated into Hebrew

12 October 2021

11:18 PM

12 October 2021

11:18 PM

I recently had to read a book by Sally Rooney in a work capacity, and my goodness that was half an hour of my life I’ll never get back. Come on, how could I be expected to read the whole darn thing when I’d already had the pleasure of Conversations with Friends and come to the conclusion that once you’ve read one book about people getting naked and saying stuff about the pointlessness of life, you’ve read them all?

Her writing is so blank that in parts it reads like a children’s starter book — Janet and John Get Naked and Say Stuff about the Pointlessness of Existence. Rooney describes herself as a Marxist and she doesn’t use speech marks. Is the concept of ‘a plot’ itself a bourgeois construct? Reading Rooney, you might think so.

So, despite being such a fan of the excellent state of Israel and its gorgeous people, I wasn’t as cross as many of my mates — Jews and allies alike — when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Rooney would not allow her latest gem, Beautiful World, Where Are You, to be translated into Hebrew.

Little Miss Sunshine is, predictably, a follower of the profoundly joyless and hypocritical Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement which appears to believe that a nation’s rough treatment of certain sections of society only counts as a crime against humanity if Israelis do it: about as logical as believing that there are no calories in food if you eat standing up, with the fridge door open.


In the interests of consistency, I do hope that Miss Rooney will be forgoing the massive Chinese market by refusing to be translated by a regime which sterilises and enslaves its minorities; and that she will also boycott an Arabic translation, considering how many Arab countries treat women as a cross between children and chattels and enjoy executing homosexuals.

The problem may be partly down to the fact that Rooney comes from Ireland. It’s not nice to single out one little country for scolding — but she started it, Miss!

My own Protestant faith has committed great crimes against the Jewish people, but the Catholic countries beat us bloody hands down. Despite modern Ireland’s woke blather, its history with persecuted foreigners is an ugly one. In a speech to the Dáil in 1943, the politician Oliver J. Flanagan advocated ‘routing the Jews out of’ Ireland. In 1976, he was minister for defence.

Just last week a report from the respected investigative journalist David Collier, after analysing Irish social media, stated ‘In Ireland, anti-Jewish racism spreads within the corridors of power and unlike in the UK or US, appears to be as much driven from the top down as the reverse.’ Dublin has an actual statue of someone who collaborated with the Nazis, Seán Russell, who was given a lovely rainbow make-over during Pride Week.

The Israeli publisher Modan translated Rooney’s first two books, making the situation even less straightforward — and more predictable, as boycotting Israel is never done at the start of showbiz careers (whether the moping Marxist miss likes it or not, she is in showbiz after the phenomenon of the TV adaptation of her second novel Normal People). It happens once the artist is established and in the position to pick (on) and choose.

Boycotting Israel is also the fashionable position for rich and famous cry-bullies to take to the tiny state, so as to show they’re down wit da kidz. Da kidz, that is, who are amusingly ignorant about this issue: in 2019 a survey of students at the University of Berkeley in California found that while most claimed to ‘care deeply’ about the Palestinian plight, ‘75 per cent of those students cannot locate those territories on a map and 84 per cent cannot name the decade (let alone the year) in which that occupation began,’ the academic Ron Hassner concluded.

Rooney insists her issue is not with Hebrew or the Jews, but with Modan. A statement from her smarms:

‘It would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers. But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house. I understand that not everyone will agree with my decision, but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people. The Hebrew language translation rights to my new novel are still available, and if I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so. In the meantime I would like to express once again my solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.’

That’s even worse than her novels in terms of banality and boo-hoo. Whatever the ins and outs, after two decades of Hebrew study my conclusion is that Rooney’s banal words are not worthy of this ancient and beautiful language.

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