Yes, there were many references to political and historic events in particular. Since blurring fact and fiction is so intrinsic to Benyamin's style, I also just wanted to keep the story straight for my own sake! Also, as you know, Jasmine Days is part of a twin novel set, and in Al-Arabian Novel Factory, a research team lands in the City to study it as a setting for a possible work of fiction. So research is partly how the plot of that novel unfolds, and it was fun to see the characters in that novel researching the questions that I had had to look up when translating Jasmine Days.
While the book is set in the Middle East, the story takes place mostly within the Diaspora. Since the narrator is a Pakistani emigre, and uses Urdu words to refer to her family members, I followed Benyamin's lead in leaving those in the English as well. The story unfolds entirely through the first person, so it was relatively easy to keep to that first person voice, even though the novel's characters are socially diverse. And while it is not a language per se, I did have to consider how people talk online—some of the narrative movements in the book happen via Facebook status updates and other social media.
Yes, indeed. There is so much to say in response to this, so I'll just make a note of one thing. There is some friendly teasing between characters in Jasmine Days. I often found that it comes across as abrupt or even cruel when you bring it into English. So I did soften that language a bit to keep the emotional proportions intact.
Descriptions of sexual violence.
It's such a great excuse for not doing my own writing! Seriously though, it's inspiring to have this close relationship with another's writer's words. As someone who writes in English, with all the baggage that comes with that, translating from Malayalam was like getting a blood transfusion.
It was commissioned. I had read Goat Days and loved it, so I was very glad for the opportunity.
Not per se, but there were a few places where the text in English had to be compressed a bit so that the dramatic effect of a scene or a description would come across.
This is the first literary work I have translated fully. But what I think of as my first foray into translation is volunteering as a translator for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, which successfully brought a lawsuit against an American corporation that had trafficked Malayali workers to the US. I translated for the workers. I remember one night early on translating a land deed for a worker who had mortgaged his house to raise the money to pay the trafficker. That's what made me a translator.