The 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation
ROBIN MOGER wins the 2017 Prize
"An alluring translation that captures beautifully the nuances of the Arabic original"
The 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Robin Moger for his translation of the novel The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez, published by Hoopoe Fiction. After four novels made the first shortlist of the prize, announced on 1 December 2017, the judges are unanimous in naming Robin Moger as the winner of the £3,000 prize, to be awarded by the Society of Authors on 1 March 2018.
The four-member judging panel comprised the writer and literary figure Dr Alastair Niven (Chair), author and editor Peter Kalu, Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS Wen-chin Ouyang, and poet and journalist Salam Sarhan.
THE JUDGES' REPORT
THE WINNER: Robin Moger for The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez
"Robin Moger has created an alluring translation of The Book of Safety by Egyptian author and journalist Yasser Abdel Hafez that captures beautifully the moods, paces, rhythms and nuances of the Arabic original and, ruthlessly but lovingly, lures us into the conflicting, conspiratorial, and violent world that it draws. Moger makes us believe this is our world, the very world we live in, and we care about the characters and their shenanigans, look out for whispers that will give their secrets away, and cannot wait until we know their fate. Moger is a relatively new voice in Arabic literary translation and the full force of his talent is certain to be felt in the years to come. His work will make a tremendous impact on how Arabic literature is received in English translation."
The judges considered The Book of Safety an exceptional novel for its adventurousness and its delight in the very act of writing. It is graphic writing of the first order, they commented, with its principal characters moving convincingly through a Cairo where there is much mistrust, but also energy and endless curiosity, while humour, sadness and wisdom abound. They concluded that through the enthralling energy and flexibility of Robin Moger's translation they have encountered an author of truly original talent.
All four judges of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize this year felt privileged by their task. Choosing a shortlist was challenge enough, but then pinpointing the winner was very hard. Their deliberations were lengthy and frank, but their choice of the overall winner was unanimous.
GENERAL COMMENT BY THE JUDGES
The judges felt encouraged by the range of topics explored by the entries and by the geographical spread of works from many parts of the Arabic-speaking world. Inevitably almost all engaged with the existing contemporary traumas and divisions. Violence, civic disruption, the curtailment of freedom for women and homosexuals, class divides, diaspora and exile, alienation within families and dislocation within communities within the range of the works are balanced, however, by a great deal of humour, by romantic sensitivity, and above all by a tremendous humanity shining through almost all the fiction entries. Implicitly and specifically the judges were often reminded that Arab storytelling today is part of an ancient tradition, with the best entries - and especially the winning novel - exploring the very form of fiction itself through ambitious new possibilities in narrative techniques.
At the helm of selection and translation is an emerging generation of talented translators who are intimately engaged with the most immediate political, cultural and literary issues in the Arab world and diaspora today. Their passion brings the turbulence and tumult in the Arab experience, fully and poetically, to the rest of the world, and at the same time showcases the new original Arab voices and their revolutionary political and literary sensibilities. Their craft of translation more than matches the craft of writing in the original works. The best translators pay equal attention to lucid characterization, clear plot line, and the depth of feeling conveyed in the poetics of language. The best translations, especially the winning novel, deliver on all these.
The judges reported that they found their experience of reading for the prize utterly rewarding and are confident that quality Arabic literature, matched by subtle translation, is alive and well, with the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize doing a sterling job in drawing it to the attention of a wider readership.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Robin Moger is a translator of contemporary Arabic prose and poetry, currently living in Cape Town, South Africa.
He has translated several Arabic novels into English, including All the Battles by Maan Abu Talib (Hoopoe Fiction, 2017), The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez (Hoopoe Fiction, 2016, shortlisted for and now the winner of the 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize) and Otared by Mohammad Rabie (Hoopoe Fiction, 2016, also entered for the 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize), Youssef Rakha's The Crocodiles (Seven Stories Press, 2014) and Egyptian author Nael Eltoukhy's novel Women of Karantina (AUC Press, 2014). He was one of the translators for Writing Revolution: The Voices from Tunis to Damascus (I B Tauris, 2013) which won the 2013 English PEN Award for outstanding writing in translation.
His translations of Yasser Abdellatif's The Law of Inheritance and Iman Mersal's How To Mend: Motherhood and its Ghosts are due to be published in 2018.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yasser Abdel Hafez is an Egyptian novelist and journalist, born in Cairo in 1969. He graduated in law from Ain Shams University, Cairo. He started work as a journalist when he was 18, and has worked with Cairo's Akhbar al-Adab weekly literary journal since it started. His first novel On the Occasion of Life, published in 2005, was excerpted in Banipal 25 - New Writing in Egypt, in Spring 2006. His second, Kitab al-Aman, now in this winning English translation The Book of Safety, was published in 2013.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez (Hoopoe Fiction)
"The central protagonist, Khaled Mamoun, is employed to transcribe testimonies in the Palace of Confessions, a state run, shadowy organisation, where he meets Mustafa Ismail, a gifted thief-cum-university professor whose talent for breaking into the homes of the rich, famous, connected and powerful allows him ample opportunity to blackmail them. From this modest opening we are treated to a surgical analysis of moral descent as Khaled is drawn into Mustafa's obsession for perfection in the business of theft and his book "The Book of Safety' described as 'the ultimate guide to successful thievery'." From the review of The Book of Safety by Paul Blezard published in Banipal 60. To read the full review online click here.
Nigel Fletcher-Jones, Director, AUC Press, Cairo, commented: "Over many years, Banipal has been an indispensable support for AUC Press' fiction publishing, creating a solid voice for Arab writers and showcasing a myriad of talent and ideas that surpass the stereotypical representation of our region. I am delighted that this year's award goes to Robin Moger, one of Hoopoe's most talented translators."
For information about the events celebrating the 2018 award click here
1 December 2017: The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize announces its first shortlist with four works translated by the duo team of Katharine Halls and Adam Talib, by Robin Moger, by Leri Price and by Anna Ziajka Stanton.
The judges were conscious all the time that the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize is not just for good fiction and poetry; it also seeks to honour the underestimated art of translation. They have selected four novels for the shortlist from the seventeen eligible entries. All four were translated with respect for nuance, contemporaneity and readability, never betraying the integrity of the original writer but also acknowledging that English-language readers need to feel at ease with what they are reading and not held up by awkward expression or mystifying allusions. The best translations here achieve all this with remarkable skill and tact. The four shortlisted works are:
The Dove's Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia),
translated by Katharine Halls and Adam Talib (Duckworth)
The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez (Egypt),
translated by Robin Moger (Hoopoe)
No Knives in the Kitchens of This City by Khaled Khalifa (Syria),
translated by Leri Price (Hoopoe)
Limbo Beirut by Hilal Chouman (Lebanon),
translated by Anna Ziajka Stanton (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Univ. Texas Press)
The Judging Panel comprises the writer and literary figure Dr Alastair Niven (Chair), author and editor Peter Kalu, Professor of Arabic at SOAS Wen-chin Ouyang, and journalist Salam Sarhan. For all information about the Judging Panel click here
THE JUDGES' COMMENTS
The Dove's Necklace
by Raja Alem
translated by Katharine Halls and Adam Talib
• Published by Duckworth, UK, and Overlook, USA, June 2016. ISBN: 9780715645864 Hardback, 544 pages, £16.20.
This labyrinthine novel was recognized by the judges as a virtuoso work of magisterial confidence and technical accomplishment. For most readers it will reveal aspects of street life in Mecca of which they will have been completely unaware, far from the popular image of a faith capital entrenched in conservatism. For a start it is a work in which women play a central part. The author tells a multitude of stories with an extraordinary command of atmosphere and pace. On one level the novel takes a popular genre of fiction, the detective investigation, and commands our attention as we follow its ins and outs, but Raja Alem invests the form with new life as she delves into the dark side of the city's alleys and byways.
At times she almost trips over herself in dealing with such a diversity of tales and at moments she hovers close to sexual stereotyping, but there is no doubting that hers is a major story-telling talent and that The Dove's Necklace is a master work. It has been expertly and vividly translated by Katharine Halls and Adam Talib.
• Raja Alem is an award-winning author from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who grew up in Mecca. In 2011 she was joint winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for this shortlisted novel, The Dove's Necklace. In 2014 she was awarded the LiBeraturpreis of the Frankfurt Book Fair for its German translation Das Halsband der Tauben. She has published ten novels, two plays, biographies, short stories, essays, and works for children and has received many awards, including UNESCO's Arab Woman's Creative Writing award, 2005. She has some works published in English, Spanish and French, including My Thousand & One Nights: A Novel of Mecca (2007) and Fatma, A Novel of Arabia (2003).
• Katharine Halls is a freelance Arabic-to-English translator, translating short stories, scripts, plays (notably Goats at the Royal Court Theatre), and non-fiction, including with Adam Talib, the novel The Dove's Necklace by Raja Alem. She has a BA in Arabic and Hebrew from the University of Oxford, and an MA in translation & interpreting from the University of Manchester.
• Adam Talib teaches Arabic literature at Durham University. He has translated four novels of contemporary Arabic literature, including The Dove's Necklace, with Katharine Halls (Duckworth/Overlook 2016), Sarmada by Fadi Azzam (longlisted for 2012 IPAF, Swallow Editions (UK) and Interlink (US) in 2011), The Hashish Waiter by the late Khairy Shalaby (The American University in Cairo Press in 2011) and Cairo Swan Song by Mekkawi Said (shortlisted for the inaugural IPAF, 2008; AUC Press 2006, 2015). He is on the editorial board of two academic journals.
The Book of Safety
by Yasser Abdel Hafez
translated by Robin Moger
• Published by Hoopoe Fiction (AUC Press), 30 January 2017, ISBN: 978-9774168215, paperback, 248 pages, £9.99.
Robin Moger skilfully translates this gripping story that cleverly shakes the fixed standards of morality of a traditional society. He reproduces The Book of Safety in a beautiful language, retaining all its magnificent dark philosophy, with the engaging character of Mustafa taking thievery to a sophisticated and new existential level. There are many sublime pieces of writing such as can only be found in great books. The translation reflects the eloquent use of language of the original. It flows very well and reads organically as though not a translated work.
This is a creatively adventurous novel which engages with the very nature of fiction. At a time when people are questioning the concept of truth, The Book of Safety looks at contrasts between appearance and reality, the real and the imagined. It is a work ambitious in scope and brilliant in execution. In both its original Arabic and Moger's translation, it shows a formidable sense of respect for the art of storytelling and complements this with a writing technique that entices the reader.
• Yasser Abdel Hafez is a journalist and novelist, and currently works as an editor at the literary magazine Akhbar al-Adab. His first novel On the Occasion of Life was excerpted in Banipal 25 - New Writing from Egypt (2006). He lives in Cairo.
• Robin Moger is a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction. Recent translations include Otared by Mohammad Rabie (also entered for this year's Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize), All the Battles by Maan Abu Talib (2017), Yousef al-Mohaimeed's Where Pigeons Don't Fly (2015), Youssef Rakha's The Crocodiles (2014), Women of Karantina by Nael Eltoukhy (2014), and Vertigo by Ahmed Mourad (2011). He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
No Knives in the Kitchens of This City
by Khaled Khalifa
translated by Leri Price
• Published by Hoopoe Fiction (AUC Press), 15 October 2016,
Hauntingly elegiac, Leri Price's translation of Khaled Khalifa's heart-breaking homage to individuals who must manage and survive power and oppression is a triumph. The cast of misfits, the unhappily divorced mother, the unlucky-in-love uncle Nizar, and the sexually irrepressible sister Sawsan, come to life on the pages.
We eagerly and with trepidation follow their misadventures in love across a broad historical and geographical canvas, over the thirty years of Hafez al-Assad's rule (1971-2000), in Syria and the Middle East. We live their highs and lows against a backdrop of music and song, and Khalifa's nuanced exposition of power and the machinery of tyranny hiding beneath masculinist social logic, structure, and conduct. No Knives in the Kitchens of This City is a timely and painful reminder of the tragedy unfolding before our very eyes that is Syria today.
• Khaled Khalifa was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1964. A founding editor of the literary magazine Alif, he is the author of four novels, including In Praise of Hatred, whose Arabic original was shortlisted for the inaugural 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. He has also written numerous scripts for TV dramas and films, several of which have won awards, and screenplays for several feature films. The Arabic original of No Knives in the Kitchens of This City was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2013 and was shortlisted for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
• Leri Price graduated from the University of Edinburgh with First Class Honours in Arabic. As well as No Knives in the Kitchens of this City by Syrian author Khaled Khalifa she has translated his earlier novel In Praise of Hatred. Leri Price's English translation was shortlisted for the US 2017 National Translation Awards (NTA) in the prose category, and was one of the Financial Times' "Best Books of 2016: Fiction in Translation".
by Hilal Chouman
translated by Anna Ziajka Stanton
• Published by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, USA, 31 August 2016. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1005-2, 220 pages with 85 b&w illustrations, USD 16.00, £12.99.
Limbo Beirut is a set of five inter-colliding stories that collectively evoke the Lebanon of 2008. The prose style is smooth and fluid - easy flowing sentence structures engagingly convey a sense of the emotional and intellectual lives of the characters, against the backdrop of the May 2008 sectarian clashes in Beirut. The psychological portraits that Hilal Chouman paints are convincing and compelling. The characters tend to be in their 20s and 30s, and the perennial difficult decisions this age group faces regarding close intimate relationships, the tensions in expectations versus desire, and the difficulty of evolving a culture of effective communication in a relationship are all brilliantly shown; Chouman is particularly good at the trauma of break-ups (see the fifth story "The Decisive Moment"), and how the characters' feelings for one another change from encounter to encounter.
There is that truism that we are all the main characters in the drama of our own lives. Chouman shows this: a minor character in one story reappears as the central character in another. What we learn about them in their new, more central role, causes us to revise the perceptions of them we gained from the initial introduction. It is an excellent storytelling manoeuvre, pulled off with aplomb. Chouman is a highly gifted writer with a style all of his own.
• Hilal Chouman is a writer, journalist and engineer, born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982. He has a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the Beirut Arab University, an MSc in Satellite Communications from Télécom ParisTech, Paris, and and MSc in Multicast Protocols from the University of Bradford, UK. Since 2006 he has published some works in Assafir Lebanese newspaper. Limbo Beirut is his third novel and the first to be translated into English.
• Anna Ziajka Stanton is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic Literature at The Pennsylvania State University, USA. She received her PhD from the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
A Beautiful White Cat Walks With Me by Youssef Fadel, translated by Alexander E Elinson (Hoopoe)
Menorahs and Minarets by Kamal Rahayymi, translated by Sarah Enany (Hoopoe)
Lighthouse for the Drowning by Jawdat Fakhreddine, translated by Huda Fakhreddine and Jayson Iwen (BOA Editions Ltd)
The Ninety-Ninth Floor by Jana Fawaz Elhassan, translated by Michelle Hartman (Interlink Books)
The Weight of Paradise by Iman Humaydan, translated by Michelle Hartman (Interlink Books)
The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette (Melville House UK)
Otared by Mohammed Rabie, translated by Robin Moger (Hoopoe)
Between Two Wives by Hussain Ali Lootah, translated by Ran Saifi (Motivate)
A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me by Youssef Fadel, translated by Jonathan Smolin (Hoopoe)
The Shell by Mustafa Khalifa, translated by Paul Starkey (Interlink Books)
Maryam: Keeper of Stories by Alawiya Sobh, translated by Nirvana Tanoukhi (Seagull Books)
Describing the Past by Ghassan Zaqtan, translated by Samuel Wilder (Seagull Books)
The Longing of the Dervish by Hammour Ziada, translated by Jonathan Wright (Hoopoe)