Cultural Translation in Reverse: The Case of German – Iranian Literature

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Christoph U. Werner


There is a growing number of literary works written in German by authors, often women writers, of Iranian origin, background and heritage. Born in Germany or migrated at an early age, German is their language of choice in writing literature while an active command of written Persian is not necessarily given anymore. Despite the cultural and linguistic distance, topics and themes of their works often include  – although not necessarily in an exclusive way  – narratives of migration from Iran or historical and cultural references to Iranian/Persian culture, and they often feature Iranian main protagonists and characters. In contrast to the wide range of popular memoir literature, this new type of writing aspires to and successfully achieves the higher echelons of literary production, addressing an extended, culturally diverse German audience. This is evidenced not only by access to recognized and well established literary publishing houses, but also in renowned literary prizes, they receive. Among the authors that can be named as part of this rather heterogeneous group of writers are Sudabeh Mohafez, Nava Ebrahimi and Shida Bazyar. The present paper first tries to locate these authors and their writing inside both the German and Iranian literature tradition and setting from a wider comparative angle. As a case study, it will focus on the works of Sudabeh Mohafez, in particular on her collection of short stories “Wuestenhimmel, Sternenland” (2004) and its Persian translation, published in Iran as “Aseman – e kavir, sarzamin – e setaregan” in 2007. What happens to such writing in the process of reverse cultural translation, once it its translated into Persian for an Iranian audience in Iran or for a still primarily Persian reading diasporic generation of Iranians abroad?

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Between Chaos and Discipline: Iranian Comparative Literature