It-Turufnament u s-Saltna is a translation into Maltese by Toni (Anthony) Aquilina of French philosopher Albert Camus’s L’Exil et le Royaume. The publication was financed by the Malta Book Fund 2021 of the National Book Council and contains works of fiction covering aspects of existentialism or absurdism.

The translation attempts to preserve the lyricism of the source text, evoking different aspects of the places’ landscapes, whether they are Algerian deserts or Brazilian jungles. But these stories include some of Camus’s philosophical ideas.

For instance, there is a positive manifestation of Camus’s ideals in Il-Ġebla Katrana, which features D’Arrast, an optimistic character who actively determines the shape of his own life even if he has to sacrifice himself to help another. D’Arrast discerns the absurdity of his world but still acts morally.

Nietzsche believed that a good translation was a victory, as translators breathe their own soul into the source text to produce their target text.

This intimates to us that literary translations are interpretations, and it also implies that a translator can (within limits) be free to be somewhat creative.

We can take as an example of this the word hôte, which can mean either a host or a guest. Aquilina’s title of the fourth story captures this dual meaning by being translated as Il-Mi(n)stieden.

In this story, we have the kind teacher (Darù) carrying the burden of his conscience as he has to choose between the law and life. The title refers both to the guest (mistieden) and to the host (min stieden) – a creative contrivance of the translator who makes use of a graphological deviation to reflect the strangeness of the character’s situation.

In Il-Ġebla Katrana, the translator’s interpretation is quite evident in the title. Aquilina chose an archaic adjective (katrana, the feminine of katran, abundant, from kotor) to give the story an old-fashioned flavour.

Fidelity and freedom are active forces in the translation process. The language of the translation gives voice (in Maltese) to the source (in French) as it contributes to literary complementation through the translator’s linguistic and creative choices.

Within the stories’ philosophical flavour, we realise that there is a main thematic basis for these short narratives. The principal theme is human loneliness that may take the form of isolation in one’s own society or a feeling of being foreign in one’s own community.

We meet outsiders living in Algeria and in Brazil who straddle the split between the native world and Europe (especially France). And loneliness can take different forms.

In Il-Mara Midinba we have a wife (Janine, for whom love is central to her life) who seeks to have an affair with the desert night and feels she is being unfaithful to her husband (Marcel).

The husband and wife never loved each other in all their years together; they lived together in marriage for convenience. Janine is a French woman who feels distressed and agonised by the vanished years and the lost opportunities, and who is gradually lured and ensnared by the utter difference of North Africa.

Her lying behaviour at the parapet and the moans suggest a kind of sexual experience, and the title of the short story (the adulterous woman) complements the impression of sexual unfaithfulness.

But when she returns to her hotel bed, she weeps disconsolately for all the loss she has had in her life and in her love – a cry that seems to imply acceptance of the absurd.

This is a type of personal loneliness. But loneliness can be social.

In Il-Muti, after an unsuccessful strike, the workers at a small cask-manufacturing workshop return silently to work because they cannot stay without earning any money.

The use of Maltese can cope with the expressive aspects of French

They clash with their boss (Lasalle), who tries to be friendly with them after the strike, but they fight back with silence because they were feeling helpless and therefore they were full of anger. Towards the end of the story, Lasalle’s little girl has a fit and she has to be rushed to hospital.

Furthermore, Camus shows that loneliness can mingle with brutality. In L-Apostata jew Moħħ Imħarbat, a mangled renegade becomes deranged by cruelty and barbarity coming from worshippers of a tribal fetish.

The narrative is a dramatic soliloquy (presented as garbled consciousness) of this renegade who has been driven mad after being captured by brutal, pagan natives who reduce his condition to utter animality under the eyes of the Fetish whose slave he has become.

The soliloquy seems a psychological state of anger uttered in agony as the renegade is left with just an echo of his identity.

In this type of literature, the narrative often retreats into the characters’ thoughts and sentiments to produce some sort of meditation on the meaning of life, even when the story is a comment on society, as in Jonas jew l-Artist fuq Xogħlu, which depicts the perils of fame among those who infest Paris’s intellectual classes.

The literary (rather than logical) implication of the juxtaposition of the “exile” and the “kingdom” produces a complexity of meaning full of emotion and psychological content. The literary polarity leads us to see man completely responsible for all that is alive and for all the pain and affliction in the human environment.

French philosopher Albert Camus. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsFrench philosopher Albert Camus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

His loneliness leads him into a sort of (unhappy) exile in his home, and it is he alone who must find some kind of order that leads him out of his banishment into a personal justification for his own way of life (kingdom).

These stories present different forms of exiles and different searches for kingdoms that can provide some proper home for the individual: a climate with values and security, a climate full of meaning that includes love.

Aquilina’s translation displays Camus’s power of rendering a variety of adept perspectives depicting characters at painful probabilities in their environment. These are stories that probe psychological exiles of fellows who are involved in an endless search for an inner kingdom which might give them a new life.

Significantly and symbolically, Salvina’s front cover illustration depicts much of this in an artistic way.

What does this translation mean to do? It does not really undertake to serve the common Maltese reader because the use of Maltese is rather literary and sometimes artificial. It tends to serve the original.

Aquilina wants to thrust Albert Camus (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957) upon the local literature in Maltese, but we need to know something about Camus’s mind-set to appreciate better these stories. And Aquilina gives us a documentary at the end for this purpose.

However, to me, the importance of this translation is the fact that the use of Maltese can cope with the expressive aspects of French, especially since we know that whatever Camus wrote was often pregnant with meaning. Aquilina’s Maltese translation is a provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of the French language (in our country) as presented in Camus’s texts. It contributes to the complementation of literary language and at the same time it puts the growth of Maltese to the test.

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