Six books shortlisted for 2023 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

The £3,000 award honours translators bringing the work of Arab writers to the attention of the wider world

The six books shortlisted for 2023 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. Photo: The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature
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The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature has announced the six books shortlisted for the 2023 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

The prize is an annual award of £3,000 ($3,800) made to translators of published English versions of full-length Arab works of literary merit.

As the first of its kind, the prize aims to raise the profile of Arab literature, as well as honour translators who bring the works to the attention of the wider world.

About this year's shortlist

This year, there were 20 entries, comprising 18 novels, a poetry anthology and a collection of testimonies.

The works were written by 18 authors, eight women and 10 men, and translated by 18 professionals, nine women and nine men.

The judges noted that while the shortlisted works of literature differ in genre and style, they all appear “to be seeking a kind of method in the madness of the upheavals of today, from the southernmost tip to the northernmost point of the Arabian Peninsula.”

The shortlist includes The Turban and the Hat, written by Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim and translated by Bruce Fudge. It follows the story of a young scribe of the real-life 18th century historian Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti as he is swept up in a web of propaganda, political intrigue and religious movements during France’s campaign in Egypt.

Firefly by Lebanese writer Jabbour Douaihy is translated by Paula Haydar and Nadine Sinno. The book follows Nizam, a Muslim man raised by a Christian couple and tells of his journey from the countryside to Beirut as the country falls into unrest.

The King of India, also by Douaihy and translated by Haydar, is a murder mystery set against a backdrop of sectarian animosity and family feuds, covering three continents and more than a century of history.

What Have You Left Behind? by writer Bushra al-Maqtari, translated by Sawad Hussain, chronicles personal testimonies of the victims of the civil war in Yemen. Collected since 2015, the testimonies tell the stories of Yemenis who have lost their homes and loved ones to murders, drownings and other atrocities.

The judges say the book is nevertheless an achievement of giving a voice to the voiceless, to people who would otherwise disappear “unknelled, uncoffined and unknown”.

Mister N by Lebanese novelist Najwa Barakat, translated by Luke Leafgren, is a tragicomedy that focuses on a writer's attempts to untangle fact from fiction in his life, mirroring the damaged city outside his hotel room.

Thunderbird, Books One & Two by Palestinian writer Sonia Nimr, translated by M Lynx Qualey, is a time-travelling fantasy that follows the story of an orphaned girl named Noor, who is transported back 500 years in the midst of fighting between the Mamluk and Ottoman empires.

The judges said young readers, who the book is aimed at, will be captivated by the richly atmospheric tale.

The judging panel

The four judges considering the entries include Ros Schwartz, an award-winning French translator of more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles, and Tony Calderbank, a translator, former teacher of Arabic and translation, and for many years British Council director in South Sudan, Bahrain and Libya.

The third judge, Sarah Enany, won the 2021 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize. She is also an assistant professor of English language and literature at Cairo University.

Barbara Schwepke completes the judging panel and is the founder, publisher and chief executive of Gingko Library, as well as the founder of Haus Publishing.

The winner of the 2023 prize will be announced on January 8.

Updated: December 01, 2023, 9:01 AM