You Missed Khoury, But Hurry: Still Souief, Matar, Ben Jelloun, Rahimi, and Translator Smackdown!

Sarah and Frank are the ones at right. Alain and Daniel Hahn (on the left) just get to look on bemusedly.

An un-missable literary event is taking place in London this weekend: the World Literature Weekend.

The event I most regret not attending is the translators’ smackdown between Sarah Ardizzone and Frank Wyne, both of whom have translated a short story by Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou. According to Ardizzone over at the Guardian books blog:

It’s scary stuff. I haven’t seen what Frank’s written and he hasn’t clapped eyes on my version, but the event’s curator and chair, Daniel Hahn, has got his mitts on both – and he’s doing little to allay our fears. While conceding there are no whopping discrepancies of meaning in our translations, he has gleefully divulged the following piece of data: “Of the 56 sentences in the story, there is precisely one which is rendered just the same by both translators. That one sentence, incidentally, is the line of dialogue that goes: “Really?””

I love this! I want us to have a translator smackdown here in Cairo.

Let’s see: Humphrey Davies (Yalo, Yacoubian) could take on Jonathan Wright (Taxi, Azazeel). I know Ahdaf Soueif (author, translator of I Saw Ramallah) is supposed to be working on her new book this summer (so what’s she doing at the World Lit Weekend?), but she would be a great addition. Let’s see, maybe pitted against Samah Selim (The Collar and the Bracelet). Elliott Colla* (Gold Dust, Poor) v. Marilyn Booth (Leaves of Narcissus, Tiller of Waters). Hosam Aboul-Ela (translator of one of my favorites this year, Stealth) v. Paula Haydar (translator of one of my other favorites, Touch).

If I knew how to make up one of those sports charts, I would set up the contest now.**

Yes, it would be nerve-wracking for the translators (do you think we could televise it?), but it potentially invigorates their choices and brings much-needed attention to the craft of literary translation. Plus, it would be hilarious fun. (Most particularly since I would be watching comfortably from the sidelines.)

Oh, and the other World Lit Weekend events, featuring Hisham Matar, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and Atiq Rahimi are detailed here. Thanks to the London Review Bookshop for putting this on. Tickets still available! And go on, take your father.

*Two ls, two ts. See, Elliott? I learn.