Place: Abu Dhabi

International Prize for Arabic Fiction Winner Announced

“These works existed but were not known outside the Arab world as they deserved to be.”

Last night in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Hasan Alwan was announced the winner of the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his novel, A Small Death, chosen from an impressive shortlist including Elias Khoury of Lebanon and Mohammed Abdel Nabi of Egypt.

In a video for IPAF, Alwan, who was born in Saudi Arabia but now lives in Toronto, said, “It might seem odd to choose to write a novel about Ibn ‘Arabi with all those extreme eastern concepts, whilst residing in this distant cold corner of the world in Canada. I often think about this. So, at first, I directly linked it to me feeling nostalgic, then I realised that being exposed to what is seemingly foreign or different is what drives me to reconnect with myself, as well as with my heritage and old culture.”

Since its inception almost ten years ago, IPAF, often referred to as the “Arabic Booker,” has maintained as its central mission the translation of winning and shortlisted novels to encourage greater readership of high-quality Arabic literature internationally.  In fact, it guarantees translation of winning novels into English (and other languages when the budget permits), provides monetary awards to shortlisted pieces ($10,000 each, and $50,000 to the winner), and supports appearances of authors at international festivals, including Shubbak in London and the Berlin Literary Festival.

The initial idea for IPAF emerged in 2007 when Ibrahim el Moallem, then President of the Arab Publishers’ Association, “talked of the regrettably few numbers of high quality contemporary Arabic novels being translated into leading Western languages,” as Fleur Montanaro, current administrator of IPAF, recounted to me in a recent interview.  Ms. Montanaro added “these works existed but were not known outside the Arab world as they deserved to be.”

According to numbers alone, IPAF does appear to have made some headway in promoting translation.  Although some have argued in the past (see this report from Literature Across Frontiers) that IPAF primarily encourages Anglophone translations, winning and shortlisted novels have been translated into 20 languages, including several non-European languages, among them Chinese, Turkish, and Russian.  Furthermore, distribution has not been limited to the European continent.  For example, The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber, winner in 2012, was distributed in Latin America.


Inter-Lingual Translation as Pedagogy: Arabic Text Simplification

My ultimate objective is to bring different manifestations of Arab culture closer to learners, to keep them interested in the language.

This interview marks the beginning of an ongoing conversation led by Asymptote’s new educational branch about the role of translation in the classroom. In addition to its Educator’s Guide released every quarter, Asymptote for Educators will soon host its own blog where readers and educators can find more classroom resources, lesson plans, contextualizing materials, and articles discussing the benefits and challenges of integrating global literature in diverse classrooms. Stay tuned! And if you’d like to participate in this new project, or tell us about your experience teaching literature in translation, do get in touch!

Claire Pershan (Asymptote for Educators) met Laila Familiar at NYU Abu Dhabi, where Laila was Claire’s Arabic language instructor. Among her many projects and accomplishments, this interview focuses on Laila’s innovative work as editor of abridged contemporary Arabic novels for Arabic language learners: Hoda Barakat’s Sayyidi wa Habibi: The Authorized Abridged Edition for Students of Arabic (Georgetown University Press – 2013). Sayyidi wa Habibi [My Master and My Love], by celebrated Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat takes place during the Lebanese Civil War, tells the story of Wadie and his wife Samia and their flight to Cyprus. Laila’s adaptation provides introductory materials and exercises that develop linguistic and cultural competencies. (Free audio files of the author reading from her work as well as a recorded interview are available on the press website.) Additionally, she is project manager of Khallina, an open source website dedicated to the teaching and learning of Arab cultures through audiovisuals. The topics of Khallina’s cultural modules range from calligraphy to the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila. Check it out!

The interview below is from their email correspondence.

Claire Pershan (CP): What do you call this practice of adapting novels into language learning resources? Do you consider it a form of translation or editing?

Laila Familiar (LF): The practice of adapting novels into language learning resources dates back to the 1930s. There is evidence in the scientific literature that this was done to help learners of French advance their language skills. Some call these works “adapted” texts, but they are also named “abridged” or “simplified” versions. There are differences in the meaning and connotations of each term, but I would not call it “translation” because the new version is in the same language as the original and the plot is usually the same. When a series of texts is adapted within the various proficiency levels of language learners, we call these Graded Readers. It is definitely a kind of editing.


A Dispatch from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

"Languages are not islands. Relationships between languages are necessary for one another’s growth."

Although it may not yet have the statistics or the industry renown of the Frankfurt or London book fairs, each year the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair attracts writers, readers, and book folk from across the world, from wherever Arabic is spoken, and then some. The event was held this year for the 26th time—not bad for a country that’s only 44 years old—and boasted a record number of exhibitors (1,260), as well as 500 cultural initiatives, 600 authors, 20 artists, and a handful of 3 star Michelin chefs. This year booksellers from 63 countries set up their stalls in the ADNEC convention center, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is itself emerging as an important location for conversation and cultural exchange. For Lebanese publishers and Sudanese translators, for Indian illustrators and Nigerian publicists, the Abu Dhabi Book Fair provides a place to meet in the middle.

I spent the better part of a week wandering through the massive convention hall, who’s striking resemblance to an airport reminded me just how much, and how rapidly, this city is redirecting flight paths and avenues of discussion and innovation. I was able to navigate by flipping between my four overlapping program guides, and weaving through the rows and rows of Arabic books—contemporary, mass market, antique, translated, children’s, cooking, coloring. Fortunately, the hall was never too crowded; the only occasional traffic came from groups of children wheeling suitcase-shaped book carts, courtesy of the event, that rivaled them in size.  READ MORE…

Untranslating Children’s Nonsense Poems

"The Bengali literary mafia would say: 'This is untranslatable.'"

When Indian author Sampurna Chatterji was growing up, she lived between several languages. Her father taught English, while her mother taught Bengali. In Chatterji’s own schooling, the instructional language was English, but she also learned Hindi and Sanskrit.

“All this creates a sort of strange cacophony in the head,” Chatterji said at a professional seminar at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, held from April 30 to May 5.

But this “cacophony” also creates wonderful opportunities for linguistic connections. As she developed as a writer, Chatterji decided not to write in Bengali. “The burden of being Bengali was too much for me,” she said. Her teenage rebellion was not to go off and smoke, but to write in English. READ MORE…