And the Winner of the Saif Ghobash Prize for Arabic Literary Translation Is…

Humphrey Davies

Sometimes, being the runner-up isn’t so bad. Particularly, well, if you’re the runner-up to yourself. The Ghobash results:

The Winner Humphrey Davies
Runner-up Humphrey Davies
Runner-up Kareem James Abu-Zeid

So, for the second time, Humphrey Davies wins the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, this go-round for his beautiful rendition of Elias Khoury’s Yalo.

In 2006, it was for his translation of Khoury’s classic Gate of the Sun.

The 2010 judges were Margaret Drabble, Susan Bassnett, Elliott Colla, and Yasir Suleiman. Suleiman said, on the Banipal Trust website, that Yalo was “the first choice on all the judges’ lists.”

Each of the judges takes a turn describing Khoury’s novel, which is a masterful exploration of violence and the limits of narration in understanding human violence. Colla goes on to talk about the translation of this particular text:

Humphrey Davies’s seamless translation hides the skill with which he works here. The language of this novel is notoriously difficult. Davies renders this difficulty in a fluent British idiom, but never at the expense of the complexities of the original.

Davies has runnered-up himself with his translation of Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis, which I don’t think is Taher’s best novel (yes, I realize it won the inaugural IPAF), but it is certainly a fine, clear translation of fine, clear prose.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid

And then finally, in the non-Humphrey Davies category: Kareem James Abu-Zeid takes a runner-up notice for his translation of the compelling, although flawed Cities without Palms, the first novel of up-and-coming Sudanese novelist Tarek Eltayeb.

There are indeed some lovely passages in the English translation of this book, particularly in the scenes of village life. From the opening of the novel:

I increase the pressure on the dried-out stick, breaking it repeatedly until my fingertips are touching the clefts in the ground. I look at these cracks that crisscross the earth like a cobweb and, using my feet, try to cover them up with dirt. But what can two small feet do for an entire village? The desert keeps growing, and sorrow, not rain, is all that comes to us.

The winners will be officially announced and celebrated at a Jan. 31 event beginning at 7 p.m., King’s Place, 90 York Way, London.

Read more:

Jan. 31 is also the deadline for getting in your submission for the 2011 Ghobash award; so, do.

If you’re in London, award organizers invite you to a Feb. 1 event at the at the Mosaic Rooms, 226 Cromwell Road, 6:30 p.m. Both Davies and Khoury will be there to discuss Yalo. Organizers say: “This is a free event, but with limited seating. Please reserve your place to avoid disappointment by emailing or phoning 0207 370 9990. Find out more by searching Facebook for “Elias Khoury and Humphrey Davies in conversation with André Naffis-Sahely.” (The Facebook page says the event’s on the 3rd; I suppose we should clear that up before you head down there.)

My review of Sunset Oasis for The Quarterly Conversation and the accompanying interview with Humphrey Davies.

Also, I believe Humphrey told me that he didn’t publish any literary translations in 2010, so no worries about another repeat, at least in 2011.

And other prize news:

Jan. 31 is also the deadline for submissions to the Caine Prize, celebrating African short stories either written in English or in English-language translation. Elliott, don’t you suppose you should submit your translation of Ibrahim al-Koni’s “Tongue”? There are others, I’m sure, if I think for a minute.

King Faisal Prize selection begins

2011 Arab American Book Award is Taking Nominations

The Best Translated Book Award longlist (25 titles strong) is scheduled to be announced on January 27, 2011 on the Three Percent and Best Translated Book Award websites.