Please select your preferences to subscribe.

Sally Rooney declines to sell translation rights to Israeli publisher

  • >> Elizabeth A Harris, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-10-13 14:52:26 BdST

Sally Rooney in Merrion Square in Dublin on Jul 24, 2021. The author of “Beautiful World, Where Are You” turned down an offer from an Israeli publisher to translate the novel to Hebrew, citing her support for Palestinians “in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.” Ellius Grace/The New York Times

The Irish novelist Sally Rooney said on Tuesday that she would not allow the Israeli publishing house that handled her previous novels to publish her most recent book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” because of her support for Palestinian people and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

In an email, Rooney said that she was proud to have her first two books, “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends,” published in Hebrew. “Likewise, it would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers,” she said. “But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.”

She added that she knew some would disagree with her decision, “but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.”

Her Israeli publisher, Modan Publishing House, said in an email that when it inquired about “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” which was published in English in September, it was told that she wasn’t interested in publishing it in Israel. It said it was not given an explanation.

In her email, Rooney cited a report published this year by Human Rights Watch that said the actions of the Israeli government meet the legal definition of apartheid, and she expressed her support for the BDS movement, which aims to harness international political and economic pressure on Israel. Supporters say the goal of the BDS movement is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, while critics, including many Israelis, say its real aim is the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Rooney’s decision was previously reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Rooney is not the first prominent author to decline an offer to publish in Israel. Alice Walker said in 2012 that she would not allow a Hebrew translation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple.” Walker, who was born in Georgia in 1944, said at the time, “I grew up under American apartheid and this,” she added of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, “was far worse.”

Deborah Harris, a literary agent whose company handles major authors looking to be translated and published in Israel, described Rooney’s decision as painful and counterproductive.

“When it’s ice cream or when it’s cement, or whatever else it is, it’s one thing, but when it comes to culture, I just have a very, very hard time seeing how this can be productive in changing anything,” Harris said. “What literature is supposed to do is reach into the hearts and minds of people. ”

Those likely to read Rooney’s work in Israel, Harris added, are not those who support the policies to which she likely objects. “Her audience here are people who are in total support of a Palestinian state,” Harris said.

Rooney’s books have been successful both critically and commercially. Her second novel, “Normal People,” was longlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a television series by BBC Three and Hulu, for which Rooney was nominated for an Emmy. A TV series based on “Conversations With Friends” is expected to be released next year.

All this has come to Rooney quickly. The author, 30, is sometimes described as more famous than the books she’s written, or as the first great millennial novelist.

“Beautiful World, Where Are You” follows the friendship of two young women, Eileen, an editorial assistant at a literary magazine, and Alice, a novelist whose career raced into fame and success, much in the way that Rooney’s did. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction for four weeks.

In her statement, Rooney said that in making this decision not to publish again with Modan, she was “responding to the call from Palestinian civil society,” and she expressed solidarity with Palestinian people “in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

She added that the Hebrew-language translation rights to the novel are still available, and that if she can find a way to sell them and adhere to the BDS movement’s guidelines, “I will be very pleased and proud to do so.”

©2021 The New York Times Company