Adania Shibli’s ‘Touch’ Makes Longlist for Best Translated Book Award

All right, back to my real job for a minute: The longlist for the “Best Translated Book Award” is out, and one translation from the Arabic has made the 25-title cut. It’s Adania Shibli’s Touch, rendered into lovely English prose by Paula Haydar.

مبروك, ya Paula!

The book is not “easy,” but it’s poetic and haunting and beautiful: Indeed, I might be more likely to class it as poetry than as a novella, or as the sort of “in-between” work that Mahmoud Darwish sometimes did. Touch tells the coming-of-age tale of an eight-year-old Palestinian girl, and is set during the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

However, as you would expect from a work narrated by a young girl, vivid concerns about a hole in the protagonist’s clothing and the colors of the world’s objects are far more important than historical narratives. (Review, Rain Taxi.)

Based on BTBA guru Chad Post’s “3 of 5” stars review of the book, I would be surprised to see it on the BTBA shortlist. He’s not one of the judges this year; I just think he’s probably closer to the judging zeitgeist than I am.

On the topic of the shortlist, the BTBA press release states:

The 10-title fiction shortlist will be announced on Thursday, March 24th, concurrent with the announcement of the finalists for the poetry award. Winners will be announced on April 29th in New York City, as part of the PEN World Voices Festival.

Further on the judging zeitgeist, I am appalled—appalled—that the Hosam Aboul-ela translation of Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth is not on this list.


Egyptian-born (and now deceased) Albert Cossery is on the list, with two novels translated from the French:

A Splendid Conspiracy, translated by Alyson Waters (New Directions)

The Jokers, translated by Anna Moschovakis (New York Review Books)

I have started to read The Jokers, and—although I haven’t read the French (and can’t, with any degree of appreciation)—the English prose is barking and guffawing at me in a fairly unpleasant way. I will give it another chance, but at the moment I’m irritated with any book on the list (except Touch) that isn’t Stealth.

I do expect to see Adonis: Selected Poems (translated by Khaled Mattawa) on the poetry longlist as well as the shortlist. And a longlist mention, at least, for Ibrahim Muhawi’s translation of Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief.

When I did a search on my name and Shibli’s, I found I’d also written about her here.  Who knew.

You can find my best translated books of 2010 (from the Arabic) on Al Masry Al Youm.