10 Questions for Salar Abdoh
- By Edward Clifford
My mother does not know a lot of things, and yet she remembers many things. When I tell her over the phone that I am thinking of learning how to sail a boat, she does not ask how it is that I could do something like this in Tehran, a city far from the sea [...]
—from "Hoor-Al-Azim," by Maryam Haidari, Translated by Salar Abdoh
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I seriously got into translation after Akashic Books asked me to edit and translate Tehran Noir, a volume in their remarkable series of noir collection from major cities around the world.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Looking back, probably the writer who had the most consistent influence on me was Graham Greene.
What other professions have you worked in?
What I’ve done besides writing in the past nearly twenty years is teaching at the City University of New York. Though this by no means comes close to all that I have done before and on the side. That would take a page or two.
What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
Maryam Haidari’s piece is a glance at the story of the devastation of the environment in not just Iran, but all of the earth. At the same time it is personal, zeroing in on a time, place and a family and their relationship to what is essentially irreversible environmental tragedy and what that has meant to the lives and memories of this one single family.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
As I am answering this, I happen to be in the city of Marrakech. It is 6:30 AM in this part of North Africa and I hear the sound of the muezzin’s call to morning prayer. In a few days I will, inshallah, be in Tehran. And not all that long ago I was in New York. I imagine all the cities I live in. None have I imagined more than Tehran, which sprawls and stutters with deliberate and everlasting heartbreak.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
The music comes not during editing or writing, but during the breaks when I usually play with my footbag (hacky sack). At these times I have a definite weakness for Americana, with some extended detours around the world in various other languages other than English.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
With first drafts I have to be totally alone and in my own home—wherever that happens to be at the moment. I never understood how someone can sit in a café and do serious work. But then, it takes all kinds.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’ve always wanted to be able to play the oud or the accordion.
What are you working on currently?
I’m about to start editing a novel I finished more than half a year ago and have not glanced at since. I will start looking at it again in empty airports and empty planes as the latest iteration of the coronavirus keeps the world at bay.
What are you reading right now?
A not very well executed Arabic textbook. I almost want my money back. Then again, that just about always happens with language textbooks. They are like terrible blind dates you just have to suffer through.
SALAR ABDOH’s last book was Out of Mesopotamia. He teaches at the City College of the City University of New York.