Friday Links: Events, Literacy Trends, and How Many Books *Are* Translated into Arabic?

A Google image search turns up an unbearable number of cheerful images featuring rebuilt Iraqi schools.

Each time I hear the adage “Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes, Iraq reads” I get a fresh little stab in the heart.

As I’m sure I’ve noted here before, literacy rates in Iraq were around 90 percent a generation ago, surely warranting the “Iraq reads” badge of honor. By 2000-2003, UNESCO estimated rates had fallen to 74 percent. A 2006 estimate put them “below 60 percent.” According to this current PBS “fact” page, they stand around 58 percent.

This morning, I read a piece about how some Iraqi children are escaping to private schools, although the article noted that these private schools may not be much better—education-wise—than those in the public sector. Falah al-Qaisi, a senior education official in Baghdad’s provincial council, told reporter Anwar Faruqi that Baghdad’s public schools “are overcrowded because less than 30 have been built here since the invasion. We need 952 more.”


In Media Line this Wednesday, Benjamin Peim writes that the “Arab World Struggles to Translate Books Into Arabic.”  The same day, French-Arabic translator Richard Jacquemond addressed this old saw at his talk at the American University in Cairo.

I’m not quite sure how I missed the event (yes, I received several notices from Dr. Mehrez and yes, I even posted them on this site). Fortunately, Ursula has written some thoughts about it over at The Arabist: New numbers on translations into Arabic.

Jacquemond apparently launched his talk by criticizing the 2002 Arab Human Development Report claim that the Arabic-reading world translates “330 books annually,” etc., etc., which I could never find it in me to swallow. How would they know? What about pirated translations? They’re really counting private-sector translations of Harry Potter and Twilight?

But more than the claims in themselves, Ursula finds herself rankled by the ways they have been parroted—as she notes, “no one laments the absence of translation from Arabic.” But she goes on to underline that yes, there is a crisis in “the creation, access, and dissemination of knowledge” hereabouts.

Let’s agree that there are many more than 330 translations a year. But how do we find out about them? Who has access? (Earlier this week, I noted Mubtada wa Khabar’s attempt to address a part of this problem.)


In other translation news, from the Center for the Art of Translation: How do fourth graders translate Dante? Pretty well, apparently. (Better than Google Translate, in any event.)


And Amazon.Com has already come out with their top 100 books of 2010, a very American- and prose-heavy rundown that includes Scott Turow’s crime thriller Innocent but not (oh, for instance) Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth. Ahem.


Events: London, San Francisco, Minnesota, NYC…

Of course, if you’re in London, the Arab-themed London Poetry International is still ongoing. I think the Suheir Hammad tickets are sold out, but you can still catch Mourid and Tamim Barghouti, Ahdaf Souief, Adonis, and others.


If you’re in San Francisco, join Dave Eggers and Alia Malek (author of A Country Called Amreeka) for a Voice of Witness fundraiser this November 13 from 5-8:30.  Ticket prices are fairly steep, but I suppose that’s what you do at a fundraiser. The evening will celebrate the forthcoming Voice of Witness book “Who is This Enemy? Narratives of Post-9/11 Social Injustice.”


If you’re in Minnesota, Pangea World Theater is looking for Arab Americans of any age, gender, and experience interested in participating in a play workshop to explore Kathryn Haddad’s “Zafira: Warrior Princess of the World.” “Zafira” takes place in the future at a time when an attack has occurred on the United States. If you’re interested, email falafelina – at – gmail – dot – com with your availability.


If you’re in NYC, you can attend the book launch of Rochelle Davis’s Palestinian Village Histories, Geographies of the Displaced at Columbia’s all-new Center for Palestinian Studies. Monday, November 15 from noon-2 p.m.