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New translation funding for Arabic Literature from the Sheikh Zayed Book Award

This year, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is offering translation funding for literary and children’s titles that have won the award, with the goal of increasing the readership for Arabic books.

Along with the recent announcement of its 2018 winners, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) is also launching a new translation funding initiative to encourage more publishers to translate Arabic literature.

Organized by the Department of Culture and Tourism- Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award recognizes writers and academics writing in Arabic and those promoting Arab culture in other languages.

Literary and children’s titles that have won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award are eligible for translation grants of up to approximately US$19,000. (See a list of eligible titles.) Additional grants for certain types of production and promotion are also available. Priority will be given to publishers translating into English, German, and French, though other languages will also be considered.

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It was or it was not: Femininity in Arabic folktales

The folktales in Pearls on a Branch, oral survivors from a preliterate era, resemble a quilt made with the fabrics of well-loved clothes. Just as patches of cloth in a quilt are arranged in different combinations to form a design, traditional folk motifs appear and reappear in a variety of settings and plots to shape the stories. One prince falls in love with the grocer’s daughter next door, another can’t take his eyes off the Bedouin girl he sees on his way to the hunt, all to the horror of the royal mothers. Here a golden anklet, and there a voice heard out of an open window, inspire obsessive love for their unknown owners. A songbird with green feathers reveals one crime and a speaking nightingale another. In the stories, love conquers all, but inevitably there are obstacles on the way to the happy ending. These are tales told by women to women so, not surprisingly, the main characters often are young women with remarkable courage, wit, and endurance. Whatever their unfortunate circumstances at the beginning, whether poverty or oppression, they are the heroines in the end.

The thirty texts gathered in Pearls on a Branch have been chosen from a hundred tales, recorded and transcribed by Najla Jraissaty Khoury and published in Beirut in 2014. Captured on tape, these are verbatim renderings of the storytellers speaking. The translation, like the transcriptions, adheres word for word to the Arabic original. The aim is to allow the English reader to listen in as the storytellers, older women living in Lebanon in the last quarter of the twentieth century, pass on the stories they had heard in childhood. Only in the verses that ornament many of the stories does the English sometimes need a few added words to be comprehensible.

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Sheikh Zayed Book Award announces 2018 winners

Now in its 12th year, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award announced on April 2 its 2018 winners across seven categories. Worth US$1.9 million in annual prizes, this award—organized by the Department of Culture and Tourism- Abu Dhabi—aims to bring global attention to Arabic-language writers and to celebrate academics writing about Arabic culture in other languages.

Syrian author Khalil Sweileh is the 2018 winner in the Literature category for his latest novel, Remorse Test, published by Nofal-Hachette Antoine. This timely novel takes the reader inside the Syrian civil war and its devastating consequences on the country’s people and places.

The jury statement reads, “The novel portrays an inward view of the Syrian Civil War tragedy; the author takes the reader on a trip around Damascus, trudging down the memory lanes and presenting the psychological conflicts amid the shattered reality of place and society—marking an important addition to the Syrian literature, with a unique use of narrative tools and vocabulary construction.”

Sweileh won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2009 for his novel, The Scribe of Love, which was translated into English by Alexa Firat and published by The American University in Cairo Press.

In the Children’s Literature category, this year’s winner is Emirati author Hessa Al Muhairi for her book, The Dinoraf, published by Al Hudhud Publishing and Distribution. In this picture book, Al Huhairi teaches children about tolerance and acceptance.

Of its decision to award this year’s prize to The Dinoraf, the prize jury wrote, “The story is set in the Animal Kingdom, where a dinosaur is out on a mission to find his parallel among the rest of animals. Throughout his journey, he gets to know the differences between the animals, which finally lead him to find his connection with the giraffe, hence becoming the ‘Dinoraf,’ in a unique portrayal of the contemporary case of peaceful coexistence and mutual tolerance of cultural differences within the global society.”

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How women are collaborating to tell stories that break through the noise on Syria

Between the news coverage, reportage and statistics around the ongoing Syrian civil war and the battle against Islamic State the firsthand experiences of ordinary civilians on the frontlines are difficult to source and expose. Yet these are often the very stories that can often provide crucial wartime evidence, chronicle social and historic shifts, or unearth true narratives that can counter official ones. And these stories are increasingly found on our bookshelves rather than on the newsstands.

From testimonies to short stories, graphic novels to memoirs, female writers, journalists and survivors are currently fronting the literatures of war, conflict and exile. The past two years have seen a surge of books and memoirs authored by women that capture the far-reaching human consequences of the Syrian civil war. Amid the fatigued reportage on its increasingly more complex escalations – and the cynical moves of other nations vested in opposing outcomes – these are compelling testaments to what befalls ordinary people as a consequence of fanaticism and powerful interests.

A remarkable example is Farida Khalaf’s 2016 memoir The Girl Who Beat ISIS. Khalaf and her family are Yazidis, members of a Kurdish-speaking minority who follow an ancient, pre-Islamic faith. The book recounts how Islamic State crossed the border into their mountainside village in northern Iraq, killing the men, recruiting the boys, and taking women and girls to slave markets in Raqqa.

Through testimonies of those such as Khalaf, the genocide against the Yazidis was officially recognised by the UN. Khalaf, in collaboration with German journalist Andrea C. Hoffmann, shaped their series of detailed interviews into a first-person narrative. Despite the indiscriminate violence visited on whole communities and towns, her memoir reminds that what women have suffered at the hands of IS, and what they continue to endure in refugee camps, is further devastating still.

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Lebanese Novelist Emily Nasrallah, 86

The quiet, firm Lebanese feminist author and activist Emily Nasrallah (1931-2018) — celebrated for her debut novel Birds of September — has died.

Born in the summer of 1931, Emily Nasrallah grew up in Al Kfeir, a village in southern Lebanon, before moving to Beirut to study and work as a journalist and teacher. Her debut novel, Birds of Septembercame out in 1962 and was later listed as one of the Arab Writers Union’s 105 best books of the twentieth century. It has been translated into German as Septembervogel by Veronika Theis, but not into English.

Journalist, translator, and author Olivia Snaije, in her brief tribute Wednesday, wrote that Nasrallah was “one of the first to write short stories, to write both about her village in the south and Beirut, during the civil war” and was “a real feminist, gracious, quiet, firm.”

Nasrallah’s other widely known work is Yawmiyyat Hirr (1997), a book for children that was translated into English as What Happened to Zeeko (2001), as well as into Thai, Dutch, and German. It describes everyday life during Civil War-era Beirut from the perspective of a tomcat.

Two other books by Nasrallah have translated to English. The first by Issa Boullata, as  Flight Against Time, and the second a collection of short stories, House Not Her Own, translated by Thuraya Khalil-Khouri.

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Fictional writing as Western resistance: How two writers challenged Western Orientalist depictions of the Arab “other”

The publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978 led to a deluge of writing on Western representations of the Orient. Of the recent scholarship that deals with nineteenth and early twentieth-century Orientalism, most either focus on the works of Western scholars of the Orient, or on cultural and literary productions from the time. Said’s scholarship cast new light on past writings by Arab academics, such as Anouar Abdel-MalikA.L. Tibawi, and Abdallah Laroui, who had already critiqued Western tropes of the Orient. The tropes Said and others were criticizing had several things in common: they depicted Arabs as less moral and intelligent, and often less human than the Westerner. Although Said’s argument in Orientalism was perceived as groundbreaking, he was not the first to write such criticism, nor was his research necessarily unique. While Arab intellectuals from the nineteenth and early twentieth century are rarely considered critics of Orientalist narratives, when studying texts from this period it becomes apparent that many were critical of the Western projects in the region.

Two Nahḍa[1] Writers’ Responses to European Orientalism: Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq and Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī

Two Arab intellectuals that wrote works that were highly critical of Europe’s interference in the region were Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq and Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī. Their responses to the West were complex, as they were not only critical of the military or political aspects of the colonial encounter, but also the problematic language used in Europe to discuss the people and cultures of the Middle East.

The focus on Arab intellectuals’ responses to Orientalist tropes from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is important, as such investigations are sorely lacking from the existing literature that examines the wide-ranging use of such tropes. This is particularly problematic as it has the effect of further silencing the subjects of Orientalism, while intentionally or unintentionally portraying them as unable to speak up about the treatment they were receiving. The relationships between Orientalist scholars and Arab intellectuals took many different forms, and although I am highlighting two intellectuals who were highly critical of the West, this is of course not the case with all of their peers.

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International Prize for Arabic Fiction Names Six 2018 Shortlisted Novels

Announced in Amman, the six books and their authors shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction are now in contention for a US$50,000 purse and English translation. They represent authors with ties to seven nations.

In a news conference Wednesday (February 21) in Jordan, jurors for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction have named their six shortlisted authors. The US$50,000 award is to be conferred at Abu Dhabi’s Fairmont Bab Al Bahr on April 24, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The honor is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic, a program run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi.

As Publishing Perspectives reported, last year’s prize went to A Small Death by Mohammed Hasan Alwan. Our interview with Hasan Alwan is here.

A point of pride for the prize’s organizers this year is the presence on the shortlist of two debut novels, The Baghdad Clock and The Critical Case of ‘K’,  by the youngest authors who made the longlist, Shahad Al Rawi and Aziz Mohammed.

The Baghdad Clock is the one shortlisted work, already set for publication in English. It’s to be released on May 3 in the UK, according to the publisher’s site, by Oneworld in a translation by Luke Leafgren.

You can read Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of the longlist here.

Shortlisted Authors for the 2018 Prize
  • Flowers in Flames by Amir Tag Elsir of Sudan (Dar Al Saqi)
  • The Critical Case of ‘K’ by Aziz Mohammed, Saudi Arabia (Dar Tanweer, Lebanon)
  • The Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah of Palestine and Jordan (Arab Scientific Publishers)
  • Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi of Iraq (Dar al-Hikma and Oneworld, London)
  • Heir of the Tombstones by Walid Shurafa of Palestine (Al Ahlia)
  • The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous of Syria (Dar al-Adab)

The last title, Dima Wannous’ The Frightened Ones, is to be published in English by Harvill Secker in 2019, in a translation by Elisabeth Jaquette.

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Censorship in the Arab world: Debating its impact at a conference in Tunisia

Censorship concerns many in the worldwide book industry today. The Arab Publishers Association conference in Tunis this month addressed the issue specifically in the Arab world.

Shortly before the announcement of the International Publishers’ Association’s shortlist for the 2018 Prix Voltaire, the fourth Arab Publishers Association (APA) conference was held in Tunis and addressed a number of issues and opportunities in the region.

The Arab Publishers Association was established in 1995 in a meeting in Beirut and today comprises some 808 publishers in its overall membership, with APA offices in both Beirut and Cairo. In its mission statement, the association describes its intent as being “to defend and develop the Arab publishing industry and protect intellectual property rights, and defense of Arab culture in all its components.”

The conference in Tunis earlier this month (January 9 and 10) staged 46 speakers in a program built around eight topics:

  • Components of the publishing industry
  • Arab Libraries, supply and indexing policies (and the ISBN)
  • Publishing, the marketing of print, digital and audiobooks
  • A crisis in Arab book content
  • Intellectual property and the problem of piracy
  • Realities of publishing in the Arab Maghreb countries of northern Africa
  • Challenges facing the publishing industry in the Arab world
  • And questions of books in the wider media context

In a session of particular pertinence to many of the world’s publishing markets today, Shukri Al Mabkhout—the 2015 winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for Al Talyeni (The Italian)—led a panel discussion titled “Censorship in the Arab World: Restrictions Imposed on Cultural Expression and its Impact on Creativity.”

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The man who remade Arabic poetry

Adonis’s poems reflect a lifelong argument with his culture.

In March, 2011, when civil protests broke out in cities and towns across Syria, the country’s most famous poet, Adonis—who is in his eighties and has lived in exile since the mid-nineteen-fifties—hesitated to support the demonstrators. Although he had welcomed earlier uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, he flinched when Syria’s turn came. In an editorial published in al-Hayat, a leading Arabic newspaper, in May, 2011, by which time more than a thousand protesters were dead and government tanks had shelled several towns, Adonis wrote, “I will never agree to participate in a demonstration that comes out of a mosque.” He portrayed the opposition as young naïfs, easily coöpted by canny Islamists who dreamed of establishing a religious authoritarianism that would be even worse than the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Adonis’s assessment of the demonstrators echoed the rhetoric coming from the regime, and many readers were dismayed. For the past sixty years, he has tirelessly called for radical change in every sphere of Arab life, and he is the author of some of the most revolutionary poems in Arabic. Sadiq Jalal al-‘Azm, an eminent philosopher at the University of Damascus, was bewildered that Adonis, “the man of freedom, transformation, revolution, progress, and modernity,” should “disparage if not condemn the Syrian revolution from its outset.” But for Adonis the Syrian uprising was no revolution. In a recent interview in French (he has lived in Paris since the mid-nineteen-eighties), he claimed, “It is impossible, in a society like Arab society, to make a revolution unless it is founded on the principle of laïcité ”—the French term for a stringent secularism. Long before the emergence of the Islamic State’s caliphate, Adonis warned that the alliance of theology with state power was the region’s most deep-rooted danger.

Adonis’s long poem “Concerto al-Quds,” published in Arabic in 2012 and now available in an English translation by Khaled Mattawa (Yale), is the poet’s secularist summa, a condemnation of monotheism couched in the form of a surrealist montage. Its subject is Jerusalem—al-Quds, in Arabic—the spiritual center for all three monotheistic faiths and the site of their most apocalyptic imaginings. In the Islamic tradition, Jerusalem was the first qibla (the direction faced in prayer), the starting point of the Prophet Muhammad’s trip to the heavens (al-mi‘raj), and also the place where the archangel Israfil will blow his trumpet on the Day of Resurrection. In Judaism, the city is the site of the First and Second Temples, both destroyed, and the envisaged site of a third. In the Book of Revelation, John beholds a “new Jerusalem” descending from the heavens and hears a voice describing the life to come: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

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John Berger contemplates life and death at the graveside of Mahmoud Darwish

A few days after our return from what was thought of, until recently, as the future state of Palestine, and which is now the world’s largest prison (Gaza) and the world’s largest waiting room (the West Bank), I had a dream.

I was alone, standing, stripped to the waist, in a sandstone desert. Eventually somebody else’s hand scooped up some dusty soil from the ground and threw it at my chest. It was a considerate rather than an aggressive act. The soil or gravel changed, before it touched me, into torn strips of cloth, probably cotton, which wrapped themselves around my torso. Then these tattered rags changed again and became words, phrases. Written not by me but by the place.

Remembering this dream, the invented word landswept came to my mind. Repeatedly. Landswept describes a place or places where everything, both material and immaterial, has been brushed aside, purloined, swept away, blown down, irrigated off, everything except the touchable earth.

There’s a small hill called Al Rabweh on the western outskirts of Ramallah, it’s at the end of Tokyo street. Near the top of this hill the poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried. It’s not a cemetery.

The street is named Tokyo because it leads to the city’s Cultural Centre, which is at the foot of the hill, and was built thanks to Japanese funding.

It was in this Centre that Darwish read some of his poems for the last time—though no one then supposed it would be the last. What does the word last mean in moments of desolation?

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