When Orly Noy did a Hebrew-language Google search for “Persian literature” Google asked her: “Do you mean Russian literature?” Amazingly, not a single Persian novel had ever been translated into Hebrew.
Noy, whose family left Iran for Israel shortly after the Islamic Revolution, when she was 9 years old, was already an accomplished translator when she decided to translate two novels from the language of her childhood to the language of her adopted country. The first, Iraj Pezeshkzad’s My Uncle Napoleon (1973), is a popular comic Iranian novel set during the 1940s, and the second, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s The Colonel, was deemed subversive by Iranian authorities and was published in German translation in 2009 instead.
For most translators, selecting a work is the easy part. Not so for Noy, who tasked herself with a historic burden: “You’re talking about 6,000 years of culture and civilization, and not a single translation,” she said in an interview.
The resulting Hebrew translations are major feats of not just literary and cultural merit, but of political value as well. It was a challenge, Noy says, “to get the Israeli reader to see how much [Iranians and Israelis] actually have in common, what happens when great ideologies and great thoughts and hopes and revolutions become violent and lose their humanity.” Through this literature, Noy is aiming to undercut ideology—in both her native and adoptive countries— and restore what humanity has been lost.