Shorouk-Penguin Partnership Inked: Project Seeks to Improve Translations in Arabic, English

Ahdaf Soueif speaks at the launch. (Sorry, I didn't figure out my zoom lens until the final speaker. But you'll be pleased to know I had my tape recorder working properly by the second one.)

Last night at Cairo’s Manial Palace, Penguin International‘s John Makison and Dar El Shorouk Chair Ibrahim El Moallem formally signed themselves into a partnership that was more than a year in the making: a joint Shorouk-Penguin project that will bring out both Penguin classics and local titles in Arabic.

The project also aims to make more Arabic literary classics available in English.

A press release says that about 12 translations of Penguin’s international classics and eight local Arabic titles will be published annually under the joint brand.

While Makison noted at the event that the emphasis in prior Penguin International projects—in Brazil, South Korea, and China—has been on translating the company’s list of classics into other languages, he said this project has a broader scope:

Some of these [Arabic titles] we hope to add, in translation, to our extensive list of Penguin classics that have been translated from Arabic into English. That’s an important element of this whole plan.

He noted that most of the Penguin classics are already available in Arabic translation, but that the Penguin-Shorouk editions will be distinguished by the quality of their translation, their scholarship, and their printing.

The Shorouk-Penguin titles also will be made available as e-books, he said, increasing their availability and hopefully subverting censorship attempts by any of the region’s governments.

Makison said he felt that the venture would build “a small bridge of understanding between the Arab[ic]-speaking and English-speaking worlds, a dialogue too often colored by rhetoric and incomprehension.”

Author Ahdaf Soueif, who also spoke at the event, spoke to that idea:

I do want to say that the sentiment is completely correct, but I want to say that it’s sometimes expressed as though there were an equal misunderstanding on both sides of the divide, as it were.

[But] there have always been many people in this part of the world who have…known and loved Western culture, and have thought of it as part of their own.

Soueif also acknowledged that, of late, misunderstandings have plagued many communities in both the English-reading and the Arabic-reading world, and hoped that an initiative such as Shorouk-Penguin could help “enrich and strengthen and broaden” common ground.

She said she hoped it could help create a place where:

…one culture shaded into the other, where echoes and reflections added depth and perspective. Where differences were were interesting rather than threatening.

The photo of Bahaa Taher isn't *so* bad.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winning Bahaa Taher—like all the authors who spoke at the event (Soueif, Gamal al-Ghitani, Radwa Ashour)—talked about his personal relationship with the Penguin classics, and his particular fondness for their editions of George Bernard Shaw.

He also praised Penguin, and others, for bringing the best of Latin American literature to the world. He said he hoped that the best of Arabic literature—such as works by the great Taha Hussein—might, through this venture, finally reach a larger world audience.

“Because I believe that we have a very rich treasure of Arabic literature,” Taher said.

The books published in Arabic—samples were unveiled Wednesday night—will look much like Penguin classics elsewhere in the world, and will carry the joint Shorouk-Penguin brand.

Other coverage of the partnership:

Wall Street Journal: For those interested in the financial side of things.

Al Masry Al Youm: The local view.

Also, I wonder how this interacts with the Kalima translation project:

They just announced, for instance, that they’ve brought out Middlemarch in Arabic.