Translation Tuesday is an on-going series of translations focused on contemporary Scandinavian literature. In this Thursday bonus edition, Toke Larsen has translated an excerpt from Lone Aburas’s Det er jeg der taler (Regnskabets time) into English.
Lone Aburas is one of the strongest and most honest voices in contemporary Danish literature, a fact she proved with 2017’s Det er jeg der taler (Regnskabets time). In this text, she takes the more sombre descriptions of growing up as a second-generation immigrant in the suburbs of Denmark found in her debut novel and cranks them up to a resounding roar lauded by critics and awarded the prestigious Montana Prize (2017). The incandescent intensity of her agitprop-monologue owes its vigour to the brutal, uncompromising honesty aimed at political hypocrites, sanctimonious apologists, and the speaker herself.
So let me start from the beginning and explain why skin is not an accessory, let’s say a hoodie, you can take on and off. That it takes an entire lifetime to unlearn the shame of my dad dropping me off at kindergarten, and the teachers openly laughing at his accent because he can’t say my name right because my parents gave me the most Danish name they could think of so I can always get a job and don’t have to pretend my name is something else, like how Ibrahim and Abubakar went by Simon and Andreas at Politiken when they called people in the middle of dinner to try and sell them a newspaper subscription. But my father’s taken jobs no one else would ever touch, is what I told myself like some stupid mantra, like it’s some act of atonement for being Muslim and brown and having an accent, like having to constantly distance yourself from terrorist attacks whenever they happen here or somewhere else in the world. That’s why I can’t tolerate people who claim that racism doesn’t exist in Denmark, I tell them that racism isn’t only being followed home from the train station with your parents by skinheads after a party at a Sudanese friendship association, trying to deal with your mother being called a fucking traitor at the age of ten, that M is a Paki lover, or back in school when my friend’s mom tells my mom that it’s perfectly fine that me and AK are friends now, but they both know (my mom and her) that we will drift apart as soon as we hit puberty. Meaning I’d probably be wearing a niqab and that everything connected to a free and, by extension, Danish upbringing would be haram for someone like me, and that in our eyes AK would most likely be a Danish whore – that it’s also fucking racist when people try to be nice and try to explain how tough, not to mention boring, it actually is growing up in the suburbs of Vamdrup, that it sucks to be so pasty from Jutland, and that despite it all, I must realize that there are certain advantages to my background, in the same way the author Johannes Anyuru must be able to see how autobiographically privileged he is because his father is a refugee from Uganda, which means he has something really exciting to write about. Like when people think they’re being subversive and against-the-grain by demanding the right to say neger or negerkys or look at the little negerdreng standing on the head of a bronze elephant like I saw on a TV show about antiques because we don’t want conditions like in Sweden. As if those conditions ever existed or ever will. Like how when reception centers for unaccompanied refugee children are set on fire, it’s supposed to be seen as a reaction to the fact that the ordinary Swede doesn’t feel represented by the political elite, which is why it’s a good thing that we at home, unlike Sweden, have a party like the Danish People’s Party, so that people have an outlet, which IRL means that me and a lot of other people are made into targets of hate and nonsense because the deal in that equation is that then people won’t become real Nazis, […] like how if I was on Tinder, I’d probably be exoticized just like that woman in Eurowoman who was constantly typecast as a Persian princess with an ethnic appeal you just can’t help but love by the users. Not to mention the laughable idea of calling the ’01 change in government a radical shift, I don’t remember encountering the influence of any cultural-radical elites on my block growing up. At most, there was a teacher at the recreational club who didn’t want to help Martin make the Confederate Flag he so desperately wanted to because it was inappropriate for the club to help kids make a Confederate Flag, the same teacher who asked our local neo-Nazi, who everyone knew was a victim of gross neglect, who was never picked up from school when we were little because his mother was a drunk and possibly a prostitute, to leave the common room one day when he was drunk and stoned, and he pointed at me as if I were the only one in the room, and he said that I was shit and born through my mother’s asshole, and in the middle of my shame of being the off-colored body, I still had the guts to think: Your mother’s a drunk, and you were never picked up after school, which became an ongoing refrain whenever he waited for me in the tunnel, and said he’d kill me and my mother and my father and my family in Egypt, which seems comical now. […] I’m just explaining how I feel sometimes, but not necessarily how I want to feel, and that I’d rather take it as a compliment when people say that they don’t think of me as brown or a person with an ethnic background. But like the narrating self, Caspar, in Nike, whose girlfriend says she no longer thinks of him as handicapped, I don’t understand what that compliment means, what it means not to be thought of as brown. Does it mean I don’t have to think about things like skin color and ethnicity because now I’m a part of an us and a we and a community where everyone’s just people, and when it comes down to it, deep down, we’re all the same? As if bones and organs could ever unite us. […]
This excerpt from Det er jeg der taler (Regnskabets time) is published with permission of Gyldendal and © Lone Aburas. Translation copyright © 2018 by Toke Wichmann Larsen.